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NHS news in brief

Our weekly round of NHS and healthcare stories

First NHS walk-in centre contracts

The first contracts to run and provide services at NHS walk-in centres in the UK have been awarded to General Medical Clinics and Atos Origin. The former, which already operates four private GP centres in London and provides occupational health services to a number of companies in the City, will run a commuter clinic at Liverpool Street station. Atos Origin will run a similar centre at Manchester's Piccadilly station.

For both companies this is the first foray into NHS provision. The five-year deals are worth around £8m each and are the first contracts of a £50m pilot scheme to provide seven walk-in centres aimed at commuters. Patients will not need to make an appointment at the centres, which will be open from 7am to 7pm.

NHS regulation needs overhaul, warn experts

The way in which the NHS is regulated needs to be radically overhauled if it is to keep up with reforms, according to healthcare experts. Under planned reforms, the private sector and Foundation Trusts, both of which operate outside state control, will increasingly provide healthcare. Experts maintain that this will make regulating services problematic unless changes are made. The NHS is currently regulated by a number of bodies, including the Healthcare Commission, Commission for Social Care Inspection (CSCI), Monitor and the Audit Commission, to name a few.

While the government has committed to merging the Healthcare Commission and CSCI, experts don't believe this will be enough. Jennifer Dixon, director of policy at the King's Fund, said that moves to allow every hospital to become a Foundation Trust and give GPs powers to commission services are causing problems for regulators. However, Nigel Edwards, director of policy at the NHS Confederation, warned that a government review of regulation would not necessarily lead to less inspection. Edwards said that greater autonomy was likely to require increased accountability.

Foundation trusts plummet into the red

Foundation hospitals ran up debts to the tune of £37m in 2004, according to a report that will appear in front of parliament in November. While Foundation Trusts reconcile their accounts over a five-year period - unlike other NHS hospitals in the UK - experts remain concerned about the level of debt as wards have been closed and recruitment frozen.

According to regulator, Monitor, steps have been taken to alleviate the current debt problems. Of the 32 Foundation Trusts in existence, only 25 were operating for all or part of the last financial year. The regulated said that three trusts - Bradford, Peterborough and Stamford, and Royal Devon and Exeter - were responsible for most of the debt. Each one ended 2004 more than £7m in the red. The trusts have blamed rising drug costs, pay rises and a new funding system for their financial problems.

High cost of breast cancer

Breast cancer is costing women thousands of pounds of their own money, according to a survey from Macmillan Cancer Relief. The survey of 50 patients revealed they face bills for hospital parking fees, prescriptions and diet changes - all of which are unexpected. The average cost was £2,000 but one woman surveyed spent £12,000, which included buying a car to get to the hospital.

For many, the extra costs coincide with loss of income and as a result many patients are ending up in debt.

Greater charity involvement

Health minister Liam Byrne has launched a new taskforce to increase the role of voluntary sector organisations in the provision of health and social care work. Byrne said the government should transform its relationship with not-for-profit organisations in order to harness their full potential: ìWe need to build on existing practice and provide additional flexible approaches to ensure the third sector has a central role in delivery.î It is hoped that the taskforce will help to pinpoint and break down the barriers that prevent charities from getting more involved in the provision of healthcare and social services.

30th September 2008


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