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NHS news in brief

Our weekly round of NHS and healthcare stories

Hewitt remarks draw anger
Health secretary, Patricia Hewitt was heckled at trade union Unison's health conference in Gateshead after she repeated her claim that the NHS had enjoyed its best year so far, despite ongoing job cuts and an estimated £600m deficit. ìWe've written a very big cheque for the NHS and we are proud of it,î she told delegates. ìBut it's not a blank cheque, it never has been and it never will be. Overspending hospitals and organisations do have to put their houses in order.î However, she acknowledged that 11 out of 26 of the targets that were set for the NHS would not likely be achieved by a 2008 deadline, including reducing waiting lists for cancer treatment. Royal College of Nursing general secretary Dr Beverly Malone warned the government to start listening and stop treating nurses ìlike overheads to be cutî.

NHS manager numbers swell
Government figures show the number of staff working in the NHS rose last year, although the Department of Health has come under criticism for a doubling of the number of managers in the last ten years. The annual NHS census found 34,301 extra people were working in the NHS compared with the previous year; while this included an extra 5,309 doctors, 6,646 extra nurses and 2,123 extra allied health professionals, the number of managers rose by 1,665. Health secretary, Patricia Hewitt, said that there had been record increases in NHS staff in recent years, but she now expected the size of the total workforce to stabilise. Dave Prentis, general secretary of the health service union Unison, said: ìThe latest reforms have increased administration and bureaucracy and the need to employ more managers. It would be far better to use the money to put into frontline services.î

NHS overpaying for drugs, says MP
A Liberal Democrat MP has accused the NHS of overpaying for three drugs to the tune of £500m. John Hemming, MP for Birmingham Yardley said the NHS had been ìslow to reactî to falls in drug prices once products had lost their patent. Using official figures on the cholesterol-lowering drug, simvastatin, the angina treatment, amlodipine and the cardiac treatment, lisinopril, he calculated that the government overspend on all three products came to over £500m (£382m for simvastatin, £106m for lisinopril and £26m on amlodipine). ìThe money they [government] are paying to pharmacists is way too much,î said Hemming. ìAt a time when there are real funding problems, this is mismanagement of the worst kind.î However, a Department of Health spokeswoman said it did not recognise the claim. ìWe have monitored prices of generic medicines after patent expiry and taken action when necessary, to ensure that reimbursement prices reflect market prices,î she said.

Nurses can improve mental health care, says DoH
Nurses can improve the care of people with mental health problems by providing more psychological therapies and by promoting physical wellbeing, according to a review of mental health nursing published by health minister Rosie Winterton and chief nursing officer Christine Beasley. The review said mental health nurses (MHNs) should focus on the wider needs of the patient, using their skills to improve physical wellbeing through better assessment and health promotional activities. It also found that inpatient care could be improved by increasing the time MHNs spend in direct clinical contact with service users and minimising the time they spend on administrative roles. ìThe time is right to build on these improvements and to provide mental health nurses with a new direction and clear future role in order to deliver government reforms such as the Mental Health Bill, personalised care and choice,î said Winterton.

30th September 2008

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