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Symptom-based testing and digital pathway tools combatting delayed breathlessness diagnosis

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Project in Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland ICB working to reduce pressure on acute units through improved diagnosis of breathlessness, a symptom affecting around 10 per cent of the UK population.


A new collaboration between Leicester and Hinckley Community Diagnostic Centres (CDCs) and Lenus Health is seeking to digitally transform the breathlessness diagnostic pathway to enhance patient care and streamline healthcare delivery.

Breathlessness is a distressing symptom which affects around 10 per cent of the UK population. It is often notoriously complex to diagnose and can result in long delays to treatment for patients, with over 66 per cent of cases caused by underlying cardiorespiratory diseases.

The project will transform an existing symptom-based care pathway, using digital tools, to reduce delays to diagnosis. It will combine triage, parallel testing and a streamlined, integrated and structured approach to diagnosis data capture. By configuring the Lenus Diagnose pathway product, supplied by Lenus Health, the project aims to evidence significant reductions in time to diagnosis and treatment by bringing in remote specialist input earlier into decision making.

Jim McNair, Director, Lenus Health said: “Breathlessness diagnosis is complex and we are delighted to be working in partnership across Leicestershire healthcare providers to optimise activities and join up data to speed up diagnosis and time to treatment.

“This not only helps the patients themselves but reduces pressure at our hospital front doors because of undiagnosed and untreated disease.”

The project, led by Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland Integrated Care Board, includes primary care, secondary care and academia to support its implementation. At the forefront of this initiative will be the utilisation of the existing Leicester CDC and the new Hinckley CDC when the latter becomes operational in early 2025, both of which are run by University Hospitals of Leicester NHS Trust. Patients’ test results will be integrated into the pathway aligning with the GP Direct Access guidelines.

Dr Louise Ryan, GP and clinical lead for respiratory illness at Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland (LLR) ICB, said: “Breathing difficulties affect many patients in our local area and this initiative will help us, in many cases, to diagnose the underlying cause in GP practices, without having to refer patients to secondary care. This will speed up diagnosis for patients and means that they can be treated sooner, without having to visit a hospital.”

Dr Rachael Evans, respiratory Consultant Physician and clinical lead for the existing breathlessness LLR pathway at University Hospitals of Leicester NHS Trust, said: “Our research at University of Leicester shows delays to diagnosis are associated with worse patient outcomes and hospital admissions, and that earlier parallel testing can help. This project has the potential to improve the local situation by effective implementation of the diagnostic breathlessness pathway through the CDC and Lenus software enabling remote earlier specialist input where needed.”

To complement the CDC project, an InnovateUK funded AKT2i project between the University of Leicester and Lenus Health will support, among other activities, evidence generation of the benefits of different interventions.

Dr Gillian Doe, research programme manager and respiratory physiotherapist at the University of Leicester, concluded: “Our team is committed to research in improving the pathway to diagnosis and symptom management for individuals living with breathlessness. The Innovate UK and CDC funding will support the digital optimisation of the Breathlessness pathway in Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland. We are excited to work in partnership with Lenus and NHS partners to deliver this project.”

The project builds on the Lenus Diagnose product successfully implemented in Heart Failure, wider CVD, and COPD pathways where it has significantly reduced time to diagnosis and treatment and delivered service efficiencies to the healthcare system.

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Hep C U Later offers new resources to help eliminate hepatitis C

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The national elimination campaign is now looking for the estimated 70,000 people living with untreated hepatitis C.


Hep C U Later has been commissioned by NHS England to provide resources to help encourage testing among patients, to provide information to the public and update knowledge among clinical teams.

NHS England’s successful national elimination programme for hepatitis C has so far seen over 80,000 people found and treated through extensive work within drug and alcohol services and other areas of healthcare such as emergency departments. The elimination programme is now seeking to find the estimated 70,000 remaining people believed to be living with hepatitis C.

Risk factors for Hepatitis C can include:

  • Sharing equipment for injecting drugs
  • Having a blood transfusion prior to Sept 1991
  • Had a piercing, tattoo, or acupuncture using unsterilised equipment

Among the resources available to you are:

Additionally, follow the Hep C U Later LinkedIn page or take a look at the website  – www.hepculater.com.

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Transformative study boosts prostate cancer patients’ autonomy

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Patients with lower risk cancer will be reassured radiotherapy alone is effective following surgery, avoiding the need for hormone therapy and its side effects.


Thousands of prostate cancer patients will benefit from results of a ‘practice-changing’ clinical trial, which has, for the first time, tested the best duration of hormone therapy to use with radiotherapy following surgery.

Findings published on Thursday evening in The Lancet, showed that there was little benefit of additional hormone therapy for low-risk prostate cancer patients compared to using radiotherapy alone. For patients with a higher risk of their cancer returning, there was a greater benefit to a longer course of hormone therapy across two years, rather than a short course completed over six months.

Each year, around 7,000 people with localised prostate cancer have surgery to remove their prostate. Around 2,000 of these go on to have radiotherapy after the surgery and previously it has been unclear if they would also benefit from hormone therapy.

The study found that 79 per cent of men with lower-risk prostate cancer who were treated with radiotherapy alone survived without their cancer spreading and becoming incurable, after 10 years. This is compared with 80 per cent of those treated with six months of hormone therapy and radiotherapy. Researchers noted that this is a small difference and could be due to chance, showing no significant benefit of hormone therapy for lower risk patients.

For patients with a higher risk of their cancer returning, the benefits of six months versus two years of hormone treatment with radiotherapy were clearer. 72 per cent of those treated with the shorter course of hormone therapy survived without the initial cancer spreading after 10 years, compared with 78 per cent of those treated with the longer course. This showed that an extended course of hormone therapy could be more effective when treating advanced cancers.

The phase III RADICALS-HD trial, led by researchers from The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust and the MRC Clinical Trials Unit at University College London, with funding from Cancer Research UK, outlined that these results will inform discussions between clinicians and prostate cancer patients to help both make decisions around cancer treatment, weighing up the efficacy of hormone therapy for the individual case.

Chief Investigator Professor Chris Parker, Consultant Clinical Oncologist at The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust and Professor of Prostate Oncology at The Institute of Cancer Research, London, said: “The new information from this practice-changing study will ensure clinicians can better tailor treatment for prostate cancer patients following surgery and help facilitate important discussions. This will mean some patients receive a more effective treatment while sparing others unnecessary intervention.

“The trial showed encouraging results for radiotherapy alone so some patients, concerned with upsetting side effects of hormone therapy, can be reassured this treatment is a good option. Other patients, at higher risk of their cancer returning, can have a better understanding of how effective hormone therapy might be for them and help them to decide the best possible path of treatment.”

Senior author Professor Matt Sydes (MRC Clinical Trials Unit at UCL) said: “These results will help doctors and patients discuss treatment options and take informed decisions about whether having two years of hormone therapy is the right choice for them.

“For patients at higher risk of cancer spread, our study suggests two years of hormone therapy may be a better strategy than six months, although treatment decisions should be based on discussions between doctor and patient.”

Dr Anna Kinsella, a Science Engagement Manager at Cancer Research UK, said: “Every year there are around 52,300 new prostate cancer cases in the UK, that’s more than 140 every day. Comparing different treatment options is important to make sure people with cancer, and their doctors, have the information they need to decide what’s best for them.
The more treatment options we have available, and the more we understand about the best ways to use them, the closer we are to more people living longer, better lives, free from the fear of cancer.”

John Coyne, 62 from Surrey, was diagnosed with prostate cancer in February 2019 and treated with surgery at The Royal Marsden a couple of months later. For 18 months, his Prostate-Specific Antigen (PSA) level was undetectable. However, in December 2020, follow-up tests revealed his PSA levels were climbing, suggesting the cancer had not completely gone. John returned to the hospital where he recently chose to be treated with radiotherapy without hormone therapy.

He said: “My PSA levels, while rising, are still very low, so my doctors and I decided against adding hormone therapy to my treatment plan. I’m a very fit and active person and my weekly kickboxing sessions are important to me. As hormone therapy lowers testosterone and can have effects such as muscle wastage and a lower libido, I felt in my case, the benefit versus adverse effects wasn’t strong enough in favour of hormone treatment.

“The support I’ve received at The Royal Marsden has been excellent. The care I receive is personalised and I feel like I’ve been listened to by my team, with my needs being considered. This news will hopefully help more men in making an informed decision regarding their own personal situation and treatment plan.”

EHR roll-outs need strategies to mitigate clinician overload

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Clinicians are increasingly subject to cognitive overload, and recent studies suggest that without mitigation strategies in place, poor implementation of EHR systems can exacerbate the problem.


In April, a narrative review paper was published in the JMIR Medical Informatics titled Impact of Electronic Health Record Use on Cognitive Loads and Burnout Among Clinicians. My fellow authors and I applied cognitive load theory to explore the impact that routine EHR use has on clinicians and to suggest how the risk of negative effects could be minimised.

It’s important to preface the discussion of our conclusions by acknowledging that EHR systems are essential for the delivery of efficient, joined-up patient care: they allow for improved communication between clinicians, remote access to clinical records and to a high volume of clinician data for research and audit purposes. Rightly, years of effort and significant investment have led to widespread EHR implementation across the NHS: 87 per cent of primary, secondary and community care staff surveyed by the Health Foundation reported using EHRs as part of their work, and in the 2024 Spring Budget, the Chancellor pledged that they would be rolled out across all NHS Trusts by 2026.

However, only 57 per cent of respondents in the same Health Foundation survey chose EHRs as the technology saving them the most time, and their rapid review of 72 studies about EHRs and related tools identified that 44 per cent found no time savings delivered. This indicates that the potential of EHRs is not yet being fully realised.

As our new review concludes, taking a considered, evidence-informed approach to the design and implementation of EHRs makes all the difference when it comes to unlocking their full potential, while mitigating significant potential risk. Importantly, by acknowledging and proactively addressing the relationship between EHRs and cognitive burden, organisations can successfully reduce rates of clinician burnout and minimise risks to patient safety.


EHRs and cognitive overload: examining the evidence

Cognitive load theory explains that human capacity to process information is limited to a few elements in working memory at any given time. When this capacity is overwhelmed by an excessive quantity of information, the resulting cognitive overload can impair decision making, interfere with mental performance and elevate stress levels. Clinicians are typically at high risk of cognitive overload, as they must navigate complex patient data, integrate new information rapidly, and make critical decisions under pressure on a daily basis. The transition to digital records has compounded this challenge by significantly increasing the volume and complexity of data clinicians must handle during patient care.

Recent studies indicate that poorly designed EHR systems can exacerbate cognitive load. The factors contributing to this include inefficient user interfaces, excessive documentation requirements, and the need to navigate through cumbersome electronic systems to access relevant patient information. In addition, dealing with overly-frequent pop-up notifications has been shown to cause distraction and alert fatigue, both of which can lead to clinicians missing important information and result in poor patient outcomes.

Experiencing regular cognitive overload is a major risk factor for burnout. In 2023, 55 per cent of surveyed NHS workers had experienced burnout in recent years, a condition characterised by emotional exhaustion, demoralisation, and a reduced sense of personal accomplishment, which not only affects individual health professionals but also the quality of care they provide. Although burnout has multiple root causes, addressing the design and implementation of EHRs to reduce the cognitive load they place on clinicians is a necessary and important step towards tackling the rise in burnout cases.

Practical recommendations:

  1. Improving EHR user interfaces: Simplifying the user interface of EHR systems can reduce unnecessary cognitive effort. This involves designing more intuitive menus, reducing the number of steps to complete tasks, and organising patient data more logically.
  2. Streamlining information presentation: Tailoring the presentation of information to minimise extraneous load is crucial. This could mean displaying critical patient data in a summarised form, with the option to expand details as needed, thus preventing information overload.
  3. Reducing documentation burdens: Automating routine data entry and employing natural language processing can decrease the time clinicians spend on documentation. This not only frees up cognitive resources but also allows clinicians to devote more attention to patient care.
  4. Incorporating decision support tools: Advanced decision support tools can aid clinicians by providing contextually relevant information at the point of care, reducing the need for extensive data retrieval and analysis.
  5. Training and support: Continuous training and real-time support can enhance EHR proficiency among clinicians. Tailored training programs that address the specific needs of users can alleviate stress and improve their interaction with the technology.

Importantly, emerging artificial intelligence and machine learning technologies offer promising avenues to manage cognitive load by automating routine tasks and predicting patient risks through advanced analytics. However, the integration of these technologies must be handled carefully to avoid adding to the cognitive burden – evidencing a need for user-friendly design and time-saving clinical integration.

In summary, clinician burnout is complex and has multiple causes – such as overall workload, inflexibility of rostering and organisational culture – which is why it could never be fully eliminated even by the ‘perfect’ design and implementation of an EHR. However, by scientifically assessing the impact of different EHR technologies and models, it becomes possible to paint a more complete picture of how they alleviate or exacerbate burnout. In turn, this understanding can be used to ensure that clinicians are equipped with the best EHR systems –and the best integrated technologies – that improve their efficiency and improve patient outcomes.

Patients diagnosed with cancer in prison more likely to die, study finds

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Those diagnosed while in prison face several barriers to treatment and receive worse experiences of care, according to a study led by King’s College London.


Researchers from King’s College London (KCL), University of Surrey and University College London (UCL), funded by the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR), have found that inequalities in cancer outcomes are persistent across English prisons, with those diagnosed while in prison 9 per cent more likely to die from the disease.

The study analysed cancer data from the National Disease Registration Service, which is part of NHS England, and conducted interviews with cancer patients in prison, and prison and healthcare professionals. It finds that cancer patients in prison are 28 per cent less likely to receive curative treatment than the general population, particularly surgery to remove tumours. Only half of the 9 per cent higher mortality rate can be explained by treatment differences.

Prisoners with cancer also have fewer hospital admissions than the general population, meaning that the cost of NHS hospital care is lower in the first six months due to fewer outpatient visits and planned inpatient stays. However, once emergency care and security escort costs are factored in, overall hospital care costs are higher.

Accordingly, the study emphasises the need to improve cancer care for people in prisons, to ensure that it is equivalent to that received by the general population.

Commenting on the study’s findings, Dr Elizabeth Davies, Clinical Reader in Cancer and Public Health in the School of Cancer & Pharmaceutical Sciences at KCL, said: “There are a number of structural factors that influence how healthcare is organised within the prison system, including the way in which prisons interact with NHS cancer services.

“Unfortunately, these factors can mean the route to diagnosis for people in prison is different to that of the general population, and they may not always receive the same level of treatment and support. People in prison with cancer have so far been a hidden and under-researched population. They should not be impacted by such health inequalities and should receive the same standard of care as they would in the community.”

To improve cancer care for people in prison, Dr Davies suggested, the NHS, HM Prisons and the Ministry of Justice should make better use of existing data to identify and reduce variations in care, as well as to better co-ordinate care pathways between these organisations.


Barriers to care

While finding that cancer patients in prison follow similar diagnostic pathways to the general population, the study shows that those in prison are disproportionately affected by barriers to care. These include lower levels of health literacy among those in prison, which impacts the ability to obtain and understand the information needed to make informed health or treatment decisions. Alongside this, the process for booking GP appointments in prisons is complex and time-consuming, and persistent communication issues between prison staff and NHS clinicians make co-ordinating care difficult.

Prison healthcare professionals interviewed commented that, prior to diagnosis, it can be difficult to distinguish between those with genuine healthcare concerns and those wishing to leave prison for other reasons.

Cancer patients in prison are also at risk of missing appointments if transport to hospital is not available. Persistent staff shortages in prisons also present another barrier. It was reported last year that many prisons are increasingly running more restrictive regimes, where a lack of staff can lead to prisoners being locked down for extended periods. The most restrictive of these, known as “red regimes”, were put into effect at least 22 times across English prisons in 2023. Prisoners have cited being locked up for 23.5 hours a day with no access to showers when under a “red regime”.

The study also highlights the use of handcuffs as a barrier to accessing care and a reason for prisoners to refuse hospital appointments. Further, prisoners are found to be reluctant to answer certain medical questions or raise concerns during appointments when healthcare professionals are present, and the study is the first to highlight discomfort among healthcare professionals and prison officers due to this practice.

After diagnosis, patients reported feeling unable to follow the advice of oncology professionals for managing and reporting side effects, which is especially challenging as they cannot directly communicate with their consultants from prison.
NHS oncology services often advice patients to bring friends or family members to appointments to offer psychological support and assist them with information gathering and retention, yet most of those diagnosed in prison attend appointments without this support, and their families often have little interaction with oncology teams.

“Prisons are designed to take away elements of control and choice for prisoners, however, this should not apply to their healthcare,” said Professor Jo Arnes, Professor of Cancer Care and Lead for Digital Health in the School of Health Sciences at the University of Surrey. “Our findings show that patients experience a number of barriers during diagnosis and similarly, once treatment started, they struggled to follow the advice of oncology professionals for reporting and managing any side effects.”

“Instead, they were reliant on prison officers and prison health professionals to respond appropriately, which undoubtedly impacts on their overall physical and emotional wellbeing. With a growing and ageing prison population there is an increasing need for patients with cancer within the prison system to access equivalent care to those in the community,” Professor Arnes added.

Professor Rachael Hunter, Professor of Health Economics at UCL, commented: “Although the cost of clinical cancer-related care for people in prison is less than in the general population, this does not reflect cost savings or efficiency, but worse access to care. More evidence is needed on cost-effective ways to improve access to curative cancer care for people in prison that is appropriate for the prison service.”

The study was coproduced by peer researchers with lived experience of the criminal justice system, supported by Revolving Doors – a charity dedicated to improving services for people in contact with the criminal justice system. It was presented in three collaborative papers published by The Lancet Oncology and eClinical Medicine.

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The Coloplast Wound Care Partnership Programme

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Joseph Singleton, Tissue Viability Nurse, Coloplast, and Tracy Vernon, Clinical Nurse Manager, Coloplast, reflect on the outcomes of Coloplast’s Wound Care Partnership Programme pilot study, which aimed to improve the outcomes for the local patient population with wounds.


Coloplast’s purpose is to make life easier for people with intimate healthcare needs. Requiring both an understanding of patient’s medical challenges and other concerns impacting their lives, Coloplast listens to both patients and the clinicians who care for them. Coloplast’s business includes Wound and Skin Care, and understands that although wound healing can be complex, choosing the right solution doesn’t have to be. By combining effective products and services designed to release clinical capacity, reduce harm, and optimise services, Coloplast works with clinicians to reduce health inequalities and deliver optimal wound care for patients.

In 2021 Coloplast initiated a Wound Care Partnership Programme (WCPP) with Primary Care Warwickshire with the intention of developing a quality improvement programme, which aimed to improve the outcomes for the local patient population with wounds.1 This focused upon an educational strategy, evidence-based wound care pathway and robust data collection.

The WCPP initiative consisted of three stages:1

Stage 1: A baseline audit (data-driven approach) which identified three themes:

  • Post-operative wounds were most common.
  • More than half of the wounds audited were non-healing (over two weeks with limited progress).
  • Numerous patients were having frequent dressing changes.

Stage 2: Triage and referral criteria were established with the support of the Coloplast Tissue Viability Support Service:

  • Two clinics per week were set up with 30-minute appointment times to facilitate holistic assessment.
  • Patients’ eligibility for supported shared care was established following the National Wound Care Strategy Programme guidelines.
  • Twelve clinically focused education models were delivered to primary care staff by Coloplast.

Stage 3: An extended 11-month clinical evaluation, where patient satisfaction and staff feedback were attained.

107 patients participated in the extended 11-month clinical evaluation:1

  • 213.5 hours of clinical time were undertaken by Coloplast. This time allocation had the added benefit of freeing up 427 practice nurse appointments, accounting for 142 hours of clinical time over the 11 months.
  • 31 per cent of patients were eligible for supported shared care resulting in the freeing of an additional 42 hours of clinical time.
  • 48 wounds healed.
  • 46 patients were referred to local leg ulcer services in accordance with the local pathway.
  • Uplift in healthcare practitioner wound care knowledge evidencing improvements in education assessment scores (35 per cent uplift in learning seen). The education offered within the WCPP has been found to reduce variations of care, as well as support the development of pathways to streamline care and support clinicians in practice.2

The pilot has led to further partnerships in other areas driving quality improvements in wound care.


References

1 Singleton J, Vernon T, Shaw S (2023) Coloplast Wound Care Partnership Programme: a pilot study. Wounds UK, Vol 19, No 3

2 Letchford J, Buckley E, Singleton J, Vernon T (2022) How to deliver essential wound management education in the primary care setting. Poster presentation Wounds UK

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Switching to decaf could prevent thousands of falls per year, care home trial suggests

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In a first-of-its-kind trial, care home residents were offered decaffeinated hot drinks in a bid to reduce falls experienced rushing to the toilet.  


Switching care home residents to decaffeinated coffee could lead to a substantial reduction in toileting-related falls, data from a trial has indicated. The trial was conducted across eight Stow Healthcare residential care homes over six months and saw roughly 300 residents given the chance to blind taste-test caffeinated and decaffeinated drinks.

The trial was instigated after staff noticed several residents falling on their way to the toilet. They suggested switching residents’ drinks to reduce bladder and bowel urgency for those with an overactive bladder or incontinence. the trial resulted in a 35 per cent reduction in toileting-related falls over three months, between June – November 2023 and follows a similar initiative by University Hospitals of Leicester NHS Trust (UHL) in 2021.

According to a joint report published by Care England, Stow Healthcare and UHL, if scaled across the care sector, the switch to decaffeinated drinks would mean thousands of falls prevented and could save the NHS as much as £85m per year.

Falls are the most common cause of injury-related deaths in people over the age of 75. People living in care homes are three times more likely to fall than those living at home; they are generally more frail, less mobile and have a higher prevalence of incontinence than the general population.

More than 90 per cent of residents chose to take part in the trial after being told about the potential health benefits of making the switch, with the choice of caffeine always available on request.

Residents, staff and families at Stow Healthcare’s facilities have described the “huge difference” made by switching to decaf and pride in being a part of the trailblazing trial.

The report authors describe the simple switch as “ground breaking” and are now encouraging other care providers to “give decaf a go!”

The full report can be accessed here.

Professor Martin Green OBE, Chief Executive at Care England, said: “Falls have a detrimental impact on thousands of older people every year, not to mention the knock-on cost to the NHS. When we first heard about the results of UHL’s decaf trial in a hospital setting, the potential benefits for social care were immediately clear. For such a simple, cost-neutral solution to have such a profound impact is extraordinary. With a huge national focus on reducing pressure on the NHS, this pioneering trial demonstrates that simple solutions can help address enormous challenges. Care England is delighted to have been involved in this project and would encourage care providers across the country to give decaf a go!”

Ruth French, Director at Stow Healthcare, said: “The decaf project has been eye-opening for all of us at Stow Healthcare. Our residents and staff have been fully engaged in this project from the moment we launched. To achieve a falls reduction of 35 per cent connected to going to the loo is a significant finding for us all in social care. The impact of a serious fall can have devastating consequences, and finding simple ways such as decaf drinks that might reduce this risk is ground-breaking. We hope it will inspire everyone in social care to take up the challenge!”

Sarah Coombes, Continence Nurse Specialist at University Hospitals of Leicester NHS Trust, said: “Ever since implementing the original ‘Taste the Difference Challenge’ at UHL, my dream has been to see it rolled out nationally and into the community setting. I hope that this will inspire other care providers to follow suit and to promote this simple change to improve patients’ continence and reduce the risk of falls.”

Andrew Selous MP, Chair of the APPG on Bladder and Bowel Continence Care, said: “The findings from Care England, Stow Healthcare and UHL’s decaffeination trial are extremely encouraging. At a time when our NHS and social care system are facing real pressure, decaffeination appears to have emerged as a solution hidden in plain sight. The APPG on Bladder and Bowel Continence Care is committed to finding wholistic solutions to support people with continence issues to live well and this initiative represents exactly that. We now need to look at how these findings can be expanded to deliver positive outcomes for people nationwide.”

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New report finds UK medicines shortages are ‘exacerbated’ by Brexit

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Nuffield Trust report finds that while medicines shortages are now commonplace globally, they have become the ‘new normal’ in the UK, as organisations call on the government to conduct an urgent review into medicines supply chains.


The latest report in the Nuffield Trust’s Health and International Relations Monitor project, The future for health after Brexit, concludes that while Brexit has not caused UK medicine shortages, it has made it significantly more challenging to address them.

The report finds that over the last two years, shortages of medicines including life-saving antibiotics, epilepsy, and chemotherapy drugs, have become a ‘new normal’. As well as reducing patient access to medicines, the shortages are placing significant burdens on pharmacists and GPs.

The shortages have also resulted in the need for the government to reimburse pharmacies for buying drugs above their standard costs more often. Since 2022, the NHS has spent an estimated £220 million on price concessions, absorbing an increasing sum of NHS England’s prescribing budget.

The research is supported by the Health Foundation and explains that UK shortages are reflective of problems in the global medicines market, and not caused directly by Brexit. The UK, however, is experiencing these shortages more acutely that comparable countries.

Global shortages have occurred due to a combination of factors, including a thinner market caused by manufacturing dominance in India and China, post-pandemic inflation and the war in Ukraine.

The Nuffield Trust’s Brexit programme lead, Mark Dayan, said: “We know many of the problems are global and relate to fragile chains of imports from Asia, squeezed by Covid-19 shutdowns, inflation, and global instability.
“But exiting the EU has left the UK with several additional problems – products no longer flow as smoothly across the borders with the EU, and in the long-term our struggles to approve as many medicines might mean we have fewer alternatives available.”


“The medicines supply chain is broken at every level”

The report explains there are unique factors affecting the UK’s shortage issue. A change to prescription patterns causing a squeeze in supply of certain medicines; HRT prescriptions increased by 40 per cent in 2021/22, while policy decisions around medicines pricing and financing, and Brexit, have all contributed.

Brexit has lowered the value of the sterling and removed the UK from EU supply chains. It has also meant the UK is left out of EU efforts to mitigate the shortages, such as initiatives like the Critical Medicines Alliance, as well as efforts to bring medicines manufacturing back to Europe.

Additional customs checks at the border and greater regulation faced by manufacturers have also led some companies to remove the UK from their supply chains.

Professor Tamara Hervey, of the City Law School, said: “There is nothing inevitable about this ‘new normal’ where Great Britain is isolated in efforts to manage fragilities in global supply of the products and people we need to run the NHS. It is the consequence of policy choices and those could be different.”

Although the report warns that rebuilding the EU-UK health relationship more formally is not a current a priority for EU institutions and representative bodies, it outlines steps the UK government could take to address the issue without requiring renegotiation with the EU. These include anticipating shortages in advance, transparency around them, and taking care to ensure sudden squeezes on cost do not drive instability.

A spokesperson for the Department of Health and Social Care said: “Our priority is to ensure patients continue to get the treatments they need. There are around 14,000 licensed medicines and the overwhelming majority are in good supply.”

The report additionally found the UK’s medicines regulator has been slower to approve new medicines compared to the EU. Between 2022 and 2023, four drugs authorised by the European Commission had been approved faster in UK than in the EU. However, 56 had been approved later and eight had not been approved at all as of March 2024.

Several organisations and individuals are calling on the government to carry out a review of the medicines supply chain.

Dr Leyla Hannbeck, Chief Executive of the Association of Independent Multiple Pharmacies (AIMp), said: “The medicines supply chain is broken at every level and unless the Department of Health and Social Care reviews its processes and procedures, we will never achieve the stability that will guarantee patients their prescription when they need it.”

Louise Ansari, Chief Executive at Healthwatch England, has also urged the government to carry out such a review to “ensure medicine safety and resilience.”

The Royal Pharmaceutical Society has launched a project to investigate the shortages by convening stakeholders from across the supply chain, with recommendations expected later this year.

The recently concluded pharmacy inquiry, conducted by the Health and Social Care Select Committee, also extensively discussed the shortage issue and is therefore likely to make recommendations to government in the near future.


Medicines shortages have placed a significant burden upon many healthcare professionals, but particularly the pharmacy profession. Public Policy Projects (PPP) is contributing to the debate by convening pharmacy professionals as part of a programme to document the challenges and their impact on the wider sector. If you would like further information about PPP’s Pharmacy and Medicines Programme, please contact Samantha Semmeling, samantha.semmeling@publicpolicyprojects.com.

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2024 Our Health Heroes Awards winners revealed

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The winners of the eighth annual Our Health Heroes Awards were announced this week at a glittering awards ceremony held at the Queen Elizabeth II Centre in London.


Supported by NHS England, NHS EmployersNHS Shared Business ServicesNHS Race & Health Observatory, SFJ Awards and Integrated Care Journal, Our Health Heroes Awards celebrates the wider healthcare workforce that supports our NHS doctors and nurses on the frontline.

From porters and cleaners to receptionists, gardeners and security guards, these often unsung heroes make up roughly 40 per cent of the NHS’s million-plus workforce; Our Health Heroes Awards is a national celebration of their achievements and an opportunity to give thanks for the important role that they play in keeping our health service functioning.

This year’s gold, silver and bronze winners (listed below in that order for each category) are as follows:

Outstanding Lifetime Contribution to Healthcare, sponsored by NHS Employers:

  • Philip Helliwell, Rheumatology Consultant, Bradford Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust
  • Elaine Allison, Matron, St. Bartholomew’s Court Nursing Home
  • Anthony Westacott, Learning and Development Manager, Avon & Wiltshire Mental Health Partnership NHS Trust

Apprentice of the Year:

  • Phoebe Edwards, Podiatry Apprentice, East London NHS Foundation Trust
  • Ben Martin, Data Quality Support Analyst, Bradford Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust
  • Debbie Harris, Healthcare Assistant, Essex Partnership University NHS Foundation Trust

Operational Support Worker of the Year:

  • Paula Di Palma, Housekeeping Manager, St Raphael’s Hospice
  • Cat Carman, Social Prescriber, Fenland Group Practice
  • Tina Jackson, Family Liaison Officer, Portsmouth Hospitals University NHS Trust

Clinical Support Worker of the Year:

  • Chido Munyanyi, Therapy Support Worker, University Hospitals of Leicester NHS Trust
  • Kerry Clark, Macmillan Cancer Support Worker, Nottingham University Hospitals NHS Trust
  • Swati Gor, Healthcare Assistant, Havergal Surgery

Healthcare Volunteer of the Year:

  • Tracy Spencer, Volunteer, WithYou in North Lincolnshire
  • Paul Fox, Yoga4Health & Yoga4NHS Co-ordinator, The Yoga in Healthcare Alliance
  • Rezmin Islam, Volunteer, Liverpool Women’s NHS Foundation Trust

Team award category winners:

  • St Clare Hospice (Dedication to a Lifelong Learning Culture – sponsored by SFJ Awards)
  • Dentaid (Best Health and Care Initiative by a UK Charity)
  • Southern Health (NHS Improvement through Digital Innovation – sponsored by NHS Shared Business Services)
  • RECONNECT (Best Healthcare Workforce Collaboration – supported by Integrated Care Journal)
  • Spectrum CIC (Best Healthcare Initiative in a Community or Criminal Justice Setting)
  • West London Perinatal Service (Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Champion – supported by NHS Race & Health Observatory)

The Our Health Heroes Awards 2024 is delivered by Skills for Health and supported by NHS England, NHS Employers, NHS Shared Business Services, NHS Race & Health Observatory, SFJ Awards and Integrated Care Journal. To find out more visit: www.skillsforhealth.org.uk/awards.

News, Workforce

New data reveals mental health toll on NHS staff

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Despite challenges facing the service, the NHS remains one of the UK’s most loved institutions, says survey data, as NHS Charities Together launches new campaign urging public to continue supporting NHS and its staff.


More than three quarters (76 per cent) of NHS staff surveyed said they have experienced a mental health condition in the last year, according to new data collected by NHS Charities Together. Conducted by YouGov on behalf of the charity, the survey of more than 1000* NHS professionals also found that 52 per cent reported experiencing anxiety and 51 per cent reported struggling with low mood.

More than two-fifths of respondents (42 per cent) said they had experienced exhaustion in the last year, while three in five (60 per cent) reported feeling concerned for the mental health of colleagues.

Despite these challenges, however, 79 per cent of respondents said they feel proud to work for the NHS and 68 per cent said that they are unlikely to leave within the next 12 months.

The survey reveals the impact of increasing pressure on NHS staff, who are now subject to ‘winter pressures’ throughout the year, and are increasingly facing high workloads, long and unsociable hours and exposure to traumatic, stressful events. 96 per cent of those surveyed said they believe that overall pressure on NHS services is growing, and 69 per cent said that morale is the lowest they have ever experienced. A similar number (70 per cent) said that work-related stress has negatively impacted their mental health in the last year.

The release of these findings comes alongside the launch of a new campaign from NHS Charities Together called Support Goes Both Ways, which aims to raise awareness of need to continue to support NHS staff, so that they can best support the public.

Commenting on the findings, Ellie Orton OBE, CEO of NHS Charities Together, said: “Staff working within the NHS do a hugely challenging job every day, often dealing with traumatic events most of us would never encounter. The majority of NHS staff love doing the job they do, and both NHS staff and the general public feel proud of our NHS. But the nature of the work can have a detrimental impact on their mental health, and stigma can prevent them talking about it.

“Many NHS Trusts are already doing what they can to prioritise the mental health and wellbeing of our NHS staff, but it doesn’t go far enough. We will continue to work closely with NHS England and across the UK to ensure the additional support we provide for NHS staff has the most impact.”

In a separate survey, also carried out by YouGov on behalf of NHS Charities Together, more than 2,000 members of the public were invited to give their opinion on the NHS. Despite the challenges facing the NHS, the 2024 survey revealed that almost four in five (78 per cent) agreed that the NHS is one of the UK’s most loved institutions, compared to three in five (60 per cent) of the 2,000 respondents surveyed in 2022 who stated that the NHS is the best thing about the UK.

The proportion of respondents saying that they would consider a role working for the NHS if they were starting their career again, has risen slightly, from just over one in four (28 per cent) in 2021 to three in 10 (30 per cent) in 2024**.

Author, comedian and former doctor, Adam Kay, whose number-one bestselling book and multi-BAFTA-winning TV show, This is Going to Hurt, provided an insight into the often funny but harrowing daily life of a junior doctor, said: “These figures sadly come as no surprise at all. I know from my own experience just how hard NHS staff work, day-in, day-out, and the mental toll that routinely takes. We are uniquely privileged to have the NHS and should be proud of the wonderful people who sacrifice so much and go so far beyond the call of duty to look after us when we need it. But they desperately need support too, which is why I’m very proud to get behind NHS Charities Together’s Support Goes Both Ways campaign.”

Pat Chambers, Charity Development Manager, County Durham and Darlington NHS Trust Charity, said: “During the pandemic, many staff were affected mentally and emotionally. The extra support from NHS Charities Together enabled us to fund wellbeing spaces, equipment and food and drink for staff, who were working exhausting shifts in the constraints of PPE.

“We also received funding for the Trauma Risk Management (TRiM) project. TRiM is a trauma-focused peer support system helping to prevent extreme trauma and PTSD – similar to interventions delivered for service personnel returning from conflict zones. Funding enabled us to recruit 53 staff volunteers to be trained in providing peer support and interventions.  We also funded a staff choir, which was a great outlet for staff and even saw us recording a single during lockdown, which hugely boosted morale.

“The unique challenges of the job means many NHS staff still face mental health challenges today, and the extra support is still needed, allowing us to promote wellbeing across our workforce and therefore ultimately continue to support the delivery of safe, compassionate and quality patient care.”

Hannah Canning is the Health and Wellbeing Coordinator at North West Anglia NHS Foundation Trust. Her role is fully funded by NHS Charities Together, through the  North West Anglia  Hospitals’ Charity, and was created to support frontline workers in the hospital. She said: “Thanks to the funding from NHS Charities Together, I’m able to support the wellbeing and mental health of staff in the hospital. I’m focusing on individual and team wellbeing and encouraging breaks and rest – considering all things that affect staff while they are on shift. Using this funding, we are able to go ‘over and above’ to support our staff.”

Ellie Orton OBE, CEO of NHS Charities Together, added: “NHS Charities Together already funds extra support such as counselling, green spaces, helplines and wellbeing zones and we’re launching Our Support Goes Both Ways campaign to raise awareness that while those who work for the NHS have a duty to care and protect us all, we all have a responsibility to make sure those who work for the NHS are looked after too.”

Steph Gorman is an intensive care nurse at Guys and St Thomas’s Hospital in London. She said: “I’m passionate about my work as a nurse. It’s hard, and I’ve had my struggles, but despite everything, it’s still one of the best jobs in the world. In the past, I’ve needed to seek help and started one-to-one counselling sessions at the hospital, which was really beneficial.

“Working as a nurse is still incredibly challenging. It’s so vital that we continue to invest in NHS staff mental health. NHS Charities Together have funded wellbeing zones at the hospital, just one example of the types of measures that really help make a difference.”


*Healthcare Professional sample: Total sample size was 1078 NHS staff. Fieldwork was undertaken between 13th – 19th February 2024.  The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all NHS staff by occupational group.

**GB/UK Omnibus: Total sample size was 2068 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 16th – 18th February 2024. In 2022, total sample size was 2132 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 13th – 14th January 2022. For the 2021 survey, total sample size was 2120 adults and fieldwork was undertaken between 11th – 12th March 2021. The surveys were carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all UK adults (aged 18+) while for the 2022 survey, the figures are representative of all GB adults (aged 18+).