Here’s a round-up of some of the latest health news for mid 2023, including the new Alzheimer’s treatment developments, Lucy Letby’s conviction, NHS cancer targets being scrapped, GP’s limiting their workloads and cancer check reminders in Morrisons underwear.
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New Drug A “Turning Point” For Alzheimer’s Treatment
A new drug has been developed that charities say could mark a significant change in the way Alzheimer’s is treatment. Donanemab, by Eli Lilly and Company, is currently being assessed for use on the NHS and while not a cure, it could help slow the progression of the disease. Results of an international study published in the peer-reviewed journal JAMA show that donanemab slowed the progression by approximately a third, enabling participants to enjoy and manage more of their day to day life for longer.
While only helpful in cases of Alzheimer’s and not other types of dementia, donanemab could be life-changing for the countless individuals living with the condition. For the research, the drug was given as a once-a-month infusion.
However, there are some worrisome concerns over the drug and it’s potential side-effects, one of the most concerning being brain swelling. As a result, critics are urging caution as these side-effects and cost considerations could reduce the efficacy, appeal and safety of this treatment, and reduce who may be eligible to take it. Nonetheless, it’s an interesting new development that can’t come soon enough and may pave the way for safer future treatments to be developed.
Nurse Lucy Letby Found Guilty Of Murdering 7 Babies
The trial of British neonatal nurse Lucy Letby has been making headlines over the last several months. By mid-August, the proceedings at Manchester Crown Court came to a close as Lucy Letby was found guilty. She has been convicted of seven counts of murder and six counts of attempted murder, with all incidents occurring between June 2015 and 2016.
Letby refused to attend her own sentencing hearing. The judge announced a lifetime prison sentence with no chance of parole. The government is ordering an investigation into what happened, with early concerns about Letby and excess baby deaths at the hospital from whistleblowers having been brushed off.
It has been an emotional and devastating case, with most people unable to understand how a young woman in the position of caring for babies could be guilty of such unimaginable acts.
You can read more about the trial and Lucy Letby’s sentencing here.
High Street Stores Accused Of “Cynical” Price Hikes On Incontinence Products
Online retailer Incontinence Choice has been investigating prices charged on the high street for incontinence products, like pads, liners and pants. It’s thought that 6 million men and women in the UK live with some type of incontinence, with one billion pads purchased in the UK alone each year.
The so-called “cost of living crisis” has seen prices on almost everything go up significantly, and this research has discovered the top UK supermarkets have boosted prices on some incontinences products by over 30%. Incontinence Choice are also highlighting the price discrepancy between like-for-like products between different retailers.
Breast Cancer Vaccine Shows Promise In Preventing Relapse
An experimental vaccine for breast cancer has shown good promise in a small study of 15 women. Each woman, with an aggressive type of triple negative breast cancer, received the vaccine and went into remission for up to 5 years. The risk of relapse is significantly high, with 40% of the women statistically likely to have a recurrence of cancer. As such, the finding that none of these 15 women went into relapse suggests the vaccine was effective, but it was a small study and it’s focused on prevention of recurrence rather than treatment of current cancer.
Triple-negative cancer is the only form this shot has been trialled on so far. While often more treatable if caught early on, it’s also very liable to spread quickly and the survival rate of living past 5 years once it has spread is devastatingly low. This new treatment targets a-lactalbuminm proteins and helps prevent tumours from forming as a result.
It’s hoped that with more research and development, this vaccine could help those who’ve had this type of breast cancer. While it’s still early days, some experts are hoping this new type of treatment could eventually see the end to breast cancer as a disease, much like how polio was eradicated.
You can read more about how this new breast cancer relapse vaccine works here.
40% Of GP Practices Employing Daily Patient Contact Limit
A Pulse survey has found that approximately 40% of GP practices in the UK already set a maximum limit on the number of patient contacts per day.
408 GP partners were surveyed. Around 4 in 10 admitted they have limits on how many “patient contacts” each GP can have on any given day. These “contacts” can include face-to-face appointments or remote appointments like telephone calls. They may also include any other form of direct communication, so the duration of these contacts may vary significantly. Many practices who enforce such limits cite safety considerations as the reason for doing so. Patients are then redirected to a service like 111 or asked to call back another day if there are no appointments available.
The BMA (British Medical Association) has recommended a GP should have no more than 25 patient contacts on a single day. However, NHS England does not employ this “arbitrary” limit.
This finding comes at a time when patient care has already suffered drastically from demand far outweighing availability, unhelpful guidelines, and countless strikes. Patients have struggled to get appointments throughout the pandemic and for many, this has not improved. With far less patients crowding GP practices these days, it raises a lot of questions about what is really going on. Despite news of a changing GP contract beginning earlier in 2023 ending the 8am telephone scramble in the morning, this is yet to happen.
You can read more about the Pulse survey results on GP workload limits here.
First Pill For Postpartum Depression In the US
The FDA has recently approved the very first pill-format treatment for postpartum depression. It’s thought that around half a million women every year experience this depression after childbirth in the US alone, a condition that can be extremely debilitating and often underestimated.
Zuranolone is being sold under the brand name Zurzuvae and it’s the first pill specifically for PPD. It seems to work faster than general already-available antidepressants, and the only other PDD-specific treatment until now was given in specific healthcare centres only and via IV administration. Zuranolone is an oral treatment taken as a pill that’s only taken for 2 weeks, hopefully making a much more convenient and expedient option for new mothers.
It’s thought that the drug may be rolled out later in 2023 in the US. Thus far, there’s sadly no indication that NICE are looking to approve zuranolone or any other new PPD treatments for use in the UK.
You can read more about Zuranolone for postpartum depression here.
Cancer Check Labels In Morrisons Clothing
The NHS have partnered with Morrisons, a UK supermarket chain, to bring cancer check reminders to their customers. The supermarket’s own brand of clothing, Nutmeg, is going to feature NHS-branded labels in its underwear line, suggesting women check their breasts and men check their testicles for any signs of cancer. A QR code will be included so customers can get further information on early symptoms and what to look out for.
Over the next few months, this 2023 NHS cancer campaign will be rolled out across all 240 Morrisons stores.
You can read more about the cancer check underwear label initiative here.
Most NHS Cancer Targets To Be Scrapped
In a huge shake-up of cancer care in the UK, the NHS has announced most of the current cancer targets will be axed. It’s no surprise that the targets have rarely been met and some have argued the targets merely cause more problems and stresses themselves.
Now the NHS will be replacing 10 targets will three pledges for general cancer care. Firstly, the NHS will endeavour to ensure 75% of patients are either given a diagnosis or the all-clear within 28 days of their first visit to a GP regarding potential cancer symptoms.
Secondly, at least 96% of diagnosed cancer patients will/should begin their first treatment within 31 after diagnosis or after deciding on a treatment plan. Thirdly, diagnosed cancer patients should commence treatment “within nine weeks of their referral date (the so-called 62-day standard)”. If you’re confused on pledge two and three, then you’re not alone because I cannot make sense of it either.
Among the targets being scrapped include the urgent two-week referral from GP to specialist for suspected cancer, and a two-week max wait for breast cancer patients to see a cancer specialist.
The new pledges are a far cry from aims to diagnose within two weeks but healthcare managers are stating this is just in order to simplify how the NHS records its efforts and to make it simpler for patients to understand. They also claim they’ll be able to catch more cancers earlier as a result. Even Cancer Research UK have conceded that this is a “welcome renovation”.
However, others have been more critical of the plan and have voiced concerns about how little it will really do to provide quicker diagnosis and treatment. The head of Radiotherapy UK, Pat Price, has accused the NHS and government of “fiddling around the edges” rather than doing anything useful to deal with care cancer, which he says is in a “shockingly bad way”. Wes Streeting, the government’s Shadow Health Secretary, has said they’re “cynically moving the goalposts” after failing to meet previous targets.
Thus far, NHS performance has been a miserable failure where cancer is concerned. The target of 85% of patients beginning treatment within 2 months of a GP referral hasn’t been met since back in 2014.
You can read more about the scrapping of NHS cancer targets & the reaction to this here.