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NHS news in brief

Our weekly round-up of the news in brief

Government communications must be `smarter'
According to leaked details from a meeting between Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt and other ministers, as reported in the Guardian, the government is struggling to `sell' some parts of the NHS reform to patients, the public and medics. A minute from the discussion reveals Hewitt calling for the government to be ìsmarterî in its communications. She notes that the best way for the NHS reforms to roll out, and garner support from the public and patients, is if physicians can be persuaded to buy in to the ideas and become drivers behind the changes. The leak also unveils ministers' concerns that `too often the debate on public service reforms seemed to pitch the government against frontline staff'.

Opt-out turnaround confuses BMA
A letter from the government notifying that, contrary to an earlier understanding, patients will be unable to opt out of inclusion in a national electronic database of health records has led the British Medical Association (BMA) to ask for clarification on how the proposed system should ultimately work. ìWe will be seeking urgent clarification on behalf of patients from the Department of Health as this seems to be a total turn-around on the assurances previously given by ministers that individual patients would be able to opt out,î commented Dr Hamish Meldrum, chairman of the BMA's GPs Committee. The BMA, which believes that patients should retain the right not to have their health information uploaded, labelled the letter from government as ìunwise and ill consideredî.

England no-smoking date set
From July 1, 2007, it will be illegal to smoke in enclosed public places, including pubs, bars, offices and factories in England. Smokers will be permitted to smoke only outdoors or in their private homes. Opponents of the plan, which follows in the footsteps of identical measures implemented in Ireland and Scotland (a ban in Wales is due to be enforced from April 2, 2007) and could cost ?50m, have labelled the stance as `draconian', however ministers are resolute that the ban will protect people from the damaging effects of passive smoking. In a related story, the BBC this week highlighted the availability of the first non-nicotine product designed to help smokers kick the habit. Champix (varenicline) is due to be assessed by NICE in the run up to the ban next year. Advice from the charity Action and Smoking on Health (ASH) urges that only those smokers who engage the NHS' stop smoking services should be given access to the drug.

Blair defends NHS changes
Prime Minister Tony Blair, in a speech to the NHS Confederation, has defended the proposed reforms of the health service which would see patients receiving treatment closer to their homes while the most severely ill would be given more rapid access to the services. He said that not to reform the NHS was not an option, and that the changes were happening for ìthe best reason there possibly can be: better care for the patientî. Critics of the reforms, which would see some A&E units downgraded, have argued that such cost-cutting will put lives at risk.

30th September 2008

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