Strikes and pay fears sweep NHS
The NHS faced one of its most strife-torn weeks in decades as strikes over pensions were fuelled by fears over pay cuts and capping. Hospitals cancelled 7,000 of the 30,000 scheduled non-urgent operations while ambulance services in many areas were reduced to 999 cover only.

Despite widespread industrial action, the BBC reports that unions and management agreed contingency plans to maintain emergency services and ensure that those needing cancer care, or nearing the end of their lives, were unaffected. Unions claim 400,000 NHS staff walked out – a figure disputed by government.

While the BMA and RCN did not take part in the strike, both expressed fury at the Chancellor’s announcement that pay will be capped at 1%. Many RCN nurses attended meetings and marches outside their working hours.

Pulse reported fears that national pay agreements are under threat after the government said it is looking at “how public sector pay can be made more responsive to local labour market”’. The mood was not helped when Future Forum chair Professor Steve Field attacked the quality of general practice, claiming the NHS has ‘lost the plot’ on primary care.

All patients to have access to GP records by 2015
Ministers are pledging that everyone in England will have online access to their GP record by 2015. HSJ states that the measure was included in a document launched by Chancellor George Osborne this week, but without any public statement.

Ministers believe that allowing patients more control over their records will lead them to become more actively involved in their healthcare, and will enable them to hold GPs to account. It is also hoped that it will spur GPs to keep more accurate records, leading to higher quality information being recorded.

Dr Paul Cundy, vice chair of the BMA’s GP IT committee, said: “This is not something I’m aware that patients want,” adding that patients did not need access to their records to book appointments, request prescriptions or contact their doctor electronically.

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Weekend hospital care can be risky
A survey of hospital trusts shows a 10% jump in deaths at the weekends. The research, by Dr Foster Intelligence, suggests that the higher mortality rates could be avoided with better staffing and access to services such as diagnostics.

The data, reported by the BBC and EHI, was published in the group’s Hospital Guide, which has been produced yearly for the past decade. In total, 42 trusts had higher than expected mortality rates – these are named in the report.

Richard Hamblin, of NHS standards regulator, the Care Quality Commission, said it was ‘too simplistic’ to conclude high death rates were definitely down to poor care. NHS medical director Prof Sir Bruce Keogh is asking trusts to look closely at weekend services.
● See below for comment article by Roger Taylor, Director of Research at Dr Foster Intelligence.

Call for all clinical research data to be fully shared
There are growing international demands for the full sharing of results from all clinical trials involving animals or humans. BioMed Central has issued a paper which argues that it is essential for all information to be freely available, whether the research is funded publicly or privately.

The paper argues that data sharing would lead to tremendous benefits for patients, progress in science, and rational use of healthcare resources based on trustworthy evidence. It also claims that the current situation, with selective reporting of favourable research and biased data analyses, is harmful to patients.

Similar calls have come from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the World Health Organization (WHO), and the European Commission.

Inflation figures yield extra £610 million for NHS
The King’s Fund has announced that new economic forecasts mean far less of the NHS budget will be eaten up by inflation. Government statistics show that if spending plans remain unchanged, £13.85 billion rather than the predicted £14.84 billion will disappear due to price rises – leaving £610 million more to spend.

The result is that over this Parliament (2010/11 to 2014/15) NHS spending in England will grow in real terms by 1% over five years instead of 0.4%. Over the period of the spending review (2011/12 to 2014/15), real growth will be 1.5% over four years instead of 0.98%.

Tabloid used NHS staff to get patient data
The former features editor of the News of the World has claimed that NHS staff, rather than record hacking, were the tabloid’s main sources of confidential patient data.

An EHI report on the Leveson Inquiry into press ethics says it was told by Paul McMullan that it was acceptable to take or ‘blag’ medical information. “There is a difference between answering the phone to somebody that has seen a pregnancy test for some big star and paying somebody to go into the office and flick through the medical records,” McMullan said.

News in Brief
HIV all-time high: Calls are being made for universal HIV testing after figures revealed that 20% of sexual health patients refuse the offer. The BBC reports growing concerns as infection levels are rising and cases diagnosed among gay men are at an all-time high.

Indian healthcare gets social media savvy: Hospitals in India, especially those serving specialist markets, are leading the way in adopting social media to grow their businesses. DX says Apollo Hospitals have 37,651 Facebook Fans.

New data release: The DH has announced the release of new data to stimulate medical research. It claims that The UK can lead the world as a location for data-enabled health research via the Clinical Practice Research Datalink.

Oxford IT launch delay: The much-heralded launch of the new Cerner Millennium EPR at Oxford University Hospitals NHS Trust has been delayed after all parties agreed that “additional time is needed to ensure a smooth implementation”.

Private healthcare enquiries surge: More than 25% of GPs have seen a rise in the number of patients asking about private care, a Pulse survey says. It also found that 59% of the public believe that those who can pay for treatment should do so.

Targeting slow care: The DH is to pilot ways of informing patients of their right to be treated elsewhere if the 18-week target is missed.

IT to end waste: Guardian Healthcare Network looks at some of the best examples of projects where the NHS is using IT to cut waste.

Roger Taylor, Director of Research at Dr Foster Intelligence, wrote in the Telegraph about his views on research showing that hospital patients are more likely to die at the weekend – and on the benefits of reorganisation.
‘Plans to re-organise hospital services are usually greeted with scepticism by the public. It is easy to understand why. Too often, the financial case is well made but the argument in terms of benefits to patients may be less convincing. Until recently, there were 24 A&Es in London treating stroke patients. Many did it poorly – especially when patients arrived out of normal working hours. Today, only eight hospitals handle these patients. But they do it very well …’

Social media
For those who enjoy online discussions (and getting some useful exposure for their business) there’s one that’s really taken off on the Innovations in Health group – and there’s lots of input about IT. The extract below tells you what it’s all about.
‘As a fun exercise, pretend you have been appointed to the new World Health Commission. You have absolute power to determine health strategy. What is it that patients, providers and society seek from healthcare? Why can’t they get that now? Starting with a blank canvas, what would be the objectives of the new system?’

Alternatively the well-respected NHS Contract Professionals group is asking members where in the world they would most like to live and work.

Highland Marketing blog

This week Sarah Bruce discusses the Intellect and Department of Health Informatics Directorate’s plan on how they intend to revive the healthcare IT market.

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