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NHS news in brief

Our weekly round of NHS and healthcare stories

The advice on flu

With experts predicting that an influenza pandemic in the UK is likely if the bird flu virus mutates and spreads to humans, the government is gearing up for the outbreak by stockpiling millions of doses and providing doctors with official advice on who should be inoculated in an emergency. There will be enough doses of Roche's Tamiflu held in the UK to treat one quarter of the population, which is the storage volume recommended by the World Health Organisation (WHO). The cost will be approximately £180m, though it is hoped that preparation in this way will halve the demand for acute hospital beds. If the WHO's `pandemic alert' is reached, doctors will act on official guidance to distribute and administer vaccines. Healthcare staff will be the first in line, followed by children and the elderly, and other vulnerable groups.

Separately, the European Commission, in Brussels, has called for more funding to be sent to impoverished regions in south east Asia, in a bid to address `the root' of the problem and protect Europe from an escape of the virus.

Fast-track NHS drug approval

In a bid to divert criticism that delays are threatening patients' lives, the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) has proffered the idea of a fast-track system to enable vital new drugs to be approved for use in the NHS within six months of applications. Currently, the waiting list at NICE runs to more than a year and, with a central review panel dropped from service recently due to budget cuts, the delays will likely lengthen. The most expensive new drugs include cancer therapies, which NICE has suggested become eligible for accelerated review as prescribers nearly always wait for a recommendation from NICE for costly drugs before giving them to patients. The fast-track process would require NICE to start reviewing a drug some time before it receives a marketing licence.

Poor cash handling behind missing drugs

Some of the most effective treatments, as recommended by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE), are not reaching a sizeable proportion of patients through the NHS because of poor financial management by hospital trusts, according to the audit commission. Healthcare practitioners are expected to act on NICE advice within three months of it being released, however only one quarter of Trusts surveyed could affirm their commitment to this with one third reporting that they had been unable to fund parts of the guidance. ìWhat would make all the difference, and is readily achievable, is improved financial planning and better communications between finance and clinical staff,î said chairman of the Audit Commission, James Strachan.

1980s cash drought underestimated

Pay reforms for existing NHS workers are behind the allocation of the major part of the government's claimed `record spending on the NHS', according to a report from the NHS Confederation. Pay rises and additional staff have soaked up the lion's share of the money, though another significant drain was the effort to address woeful underspending on the NHS in the 1980s and early 1990s. Chief executive of the NHS Confederation, Dr Gill Morgan, said: ìThe impact of under investment in the NHSÖ seems much greater than was first anticipated.î The Conservative Party has claimed that while spending on the NHS is at an all time high, it has not been translated into increased productivity. Dr Morgan branded the attack ìunfairî, pointing out that waiting lists and times had both decreased notably. She said that much of the new money is being spent on the increased cost of new drugs and medical technology.

30th September 2008


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