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NHS news in brief

Our weekly round of NHS and healthcare stories

Research cash reserved for the elite

`Elite' groups of physicians and academics from England's top 10 hospitals will receive an extra portion of the government's R&D funding which, according to the Department of Health (DoH), will halt the fall in numbers of medical academics. The DoH also expressed hope that the money will create an NHS `premier league' of medical centres, which will help establish international reputations for applied research, similar to that of the US Mayo clinics. Hospitals will now have to compete to get into the top 10 in an attempt to increase their budget.

The `unknown' risk of heart drugs

Following a review of existing data, German researchers have claimed that the side effects of heart drugs on women are little known. The reason for the knowledge gap is that heart disease was traditionally, yet wrongly, seen as a `male' condition, so women were largely ignored in health studies. However, heart disease is a bigger killer of women today than breast cancer. The review found many different side effects from various treatments - aspirin is less effective for women, and Digitalis is associated with a higher death rate in female patients than in male. Professor Verena Stangl, who led the research, said: ìIt is essential that trials are designed to provide the necessary data.î

IVF treatment may be limited to one embryo

The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) is reviewing whether in vitro fertilisation should be limited to one embryo implant at a time in an effort to avoid the risks linked to multiple births. The idea is supported by recent research from Professor Bill Ledger, of Sheffield University, who found that IVF triplets cost the NHS £32,354 in their first year of life - 10 times the normal cost. A spokesman for the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists expressed support, stating: ìThere is no doubt that this [plan] is the way for the futureÖ if we are serious about reducing the risk of multiple pregnancy.î

NHS24 slowing down

Ministers have been accused of ineptitude after a parliamentary answer revealed that NHS 24 call-back times have risen eight-fold in just three years. It now takes 68 minutes to return less urgent calls, whereas in 2002, it took just eight minutes. Scottish National Party health spokeswoman, Shona Robison, believed the service was rolled out without due care, claiming that it ìexposes the executive's staggering incompetenceî. However, Health Minister, Andy Kerr, said that NHS 24 staff did not deserve criticism. His response was vehement: ìNHS 24 is here to stayÖ Progress is already being made and I expect further progress under NHS 24's new leadership.î An independent review has been commissioned into NHS 24's performance.

Patient choice ìis not the answerî

A government plan to increase patient choice for hospitals, GPs and surgeries is failing to enthuse the public, according to consumer watchdog Which? In a recent report, Which? found that 89 per cent of people want good local hospitals rather than a choice of treatment areas and 85 per cent said that a good GP close to home was also important. Frances Blunden, author of the report, stated that ìincreased patient choice is not the answerî and ìwill not automatically improve standardsî. The report complements a British Medical Association poll that found patient choice to be ranked bottom of a list of the 10 most important NHS issues.

30th September 2008

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