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NHS news in brief

Our weekly round-up of news in brief

Christmas flu jab delay fear
The authorities have issued the countryís doctors with a warning that their most elderly and vulnerable patients may be at risk this winter due to a delay in the production and delivery of flu jabs. The Department of Health expects enough doses to meet demand in the long term, however it has made clear the potential risk to the most vulnerable communities over the next few months. Normally, this group would receive a flu jab in the Autumn ñ which coincides this year with the start of a national advertising campaign reminding people to get vaccinated ñ but it now seems likely that surgeries will run short through to December. The government has ordered 15.2m doses, which is around one million more than last year, when supplies also ran low due to production problems and fears over bird flu.

Nursing services for sale
A group of entrepreneurial nurses and therapists in Surrey this week left the NHS in order to form their own new, privately-held company, Central Surrey Health, which will sell their services back to the local Primary Care Trust (PCT) under a not-for-profit arrangement. The government supports the move, though it has proved to be contentious with NHS unions which view it as yet another step towards privatisation of the service. The drivers behind the new company have described the development as having taken a chance ìto put nurses and therapists back in controlî. The organisation has vowed to spend any surplus cash it acquires on new equipment, and will share any gained through efficiencies with its buyer, the PCT.

ëPrivatisationí methods emerge in hospital buyout
The UK may soon witness the first private market-style takeover of a National Health Service hospital by another, more financially successful neighbour. A Foundation Trust called Heart of England, based in Birmingham, plans to acquire the Good Hope Hospital, a non-Foundation status organisation which has struggled with debt in the past. The move would differ from traditional mergers, seen sometimes between NHS Trusts, as the Good Hope would essentially be dissolved as it became part of the Foundation Trust. The Department of Health is understood to be keen for more ëacquisitionsí to occur, notably in the wake of recent worries that it will miss its target regarding the number of Trusts achieving Foundation Status. Heart of England is reported to have made a £5m surplus on a £280m turnover.

Breast screening awareness campaign needed
While women over the age of 70 are most at risk from breast cancer, some 90 per cent of them have never asked for a breast scan, largely because their awareness of their eligibility and access to such services is poor, according to a survey carried out by charity Breakthrough Breast Cancer (BBC). One third of all breast cancers, some 41,000, diagnosed annually in the UK occur in women aged 70 years and over, yet this group is also least likely to check their breasts regularly. Their knowledge of the signs and symptoms also need to be improved, said Breakthrough Breast Cancer, which has called for better awareness campaigns for older women, particularly with regard to their ërightí to undergo regular breast screening. ìMore focus on raising awareness among these women is needed, and this must include improvements in the way messages are communicated,î said Jeremy Hughes, chief executive at charity BBC. Dr Lesley Walker, of Cancer Research UK, added: ìThere does need to be a system in place which reminds women that they should be breast aware and ask their GP to continue to arrange mammography."                

30th September 2008

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