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NHS news in brief

Our weekly round of NHS and healthcare stories

MPs 'support pub smoking ban'

A survey of 140 MPs, conducted for UK anti-smoking groups, Cancer Research UK and Action on Smoking and Health (Ash), has revealed that 69 per cent support a ban on smoking in all workplaces, including pubs. Bolstered by the findings, Deborah Arnott, director of Ash, claimed that ìPatricia Hewitt must find the political will to follow the Scottish and Irish exampleî by banning smoking in public. However, the Department of Health highlighted difficulties, saying that the public were not completely behind a ban in ìall bars and pubsî. The government estimates that smoking kills 100,000 people a year and costs the NHS £1.7bn annually, some of which is covered at present by high tobacco taxes.

Unlicensed vaccines put doctors at risk

Doctors who vaccinate patients with unlicensed MMR jabs are running the risk of legal action, according to the British Medical Association. The 400,000 unlicensed MMR vaccines were imported by the Department of Health (DoH) in an attempt to tackle a potential mumps epidemic, but doctors using them are not legally protected. The vaccines - Triplovax from Germany and MMR II from the US - are identical to Britain's controversial MMR II combination vaccine, but the imports do not have a product licence for the UK. The British Medical Association is now calling for a ìguaranteed indemnityî for doctors forced into their use. The DoH has yet to give any guarantees.

New NHS reviews in the pipeline

The Healthcare Commission has outlined plans to introduce a new patient-centred ratings system this year. Special emphasis has been placed on reviewing services for under-18s, efforts to tackle smoking and the care of problem drug users. Initial steps will ensure that NHS trusts are staffed with those trained to work with children - other measures include proactive measures to help people quit smoking, and a look at the efficiency of drug action teams. It is hoped that the new system will reduce bureaucracy and target trusts that need most help.

Target harming the NHS

One of the NHS flagship targets could be starving other areas of the health service of funding. Former Health Minister, John Reid, set the target to ensure that all patients receive treatment within 18 weeks of GP referral - 2008 is the deadline for compliance. Doctors and academics are concerned that other services will suffer, and there is widespread concern that the new target cannot be met. However, the Department of Health has stated that the NHS ìis more than capableî of meeting the target, adding that it would be aided by increased funding of ì£15bn over the next three yearsî.

Hospital recruitment on hold

It looks increasingly likely that hospital recruitment will freeze after one in three hospital trusts recorded a deficit last year. Nurse, administration and support posts will be the worst hit. Alistair Henderson, deputy director of NHS employers, commented that the pressing financial situation meant that reducing staff was, ìthe quickest way to make short-term savingsî. He also warned that other services may be affected. Some 500 jobs will be sacrificed by allowing `non-essential' posts to go unfilled. The news comes just one week after the British Medical Association warned that junior doctors were also struggling to find jobs.

30th September 2008

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