GP services "under threat of extinction"

by Admin 24. March 2014 10:17

The UK’s GP services are "under severe threat of extinction", the head of the Royal College of GPs (RCGP) has warned. 

Failure to properly fund GP surgeries and growing demand for care means that the sustainability of the NHS is at risk, according to RGCP’s president, Dr Maureen Baker. She also raised concerns that some practices were already closing due to staff shortages.

"General practice as we know it is now under severe threat of extinction. It is imploding faster than people realise and patients are already bearing the brunt of the problem,” said Dr Baker. “We are fiddling while Rome burns and the four governments of the UK must wake up to the critical state that general practice is now in.” 

The RCGP said that although general practice is responsible for 90% of patient contact within the NHS, it only receives 8.39% of the overall NHS budget. Dr Baker called on governments in London, Cardiff, Edinburgh and Belfast to rise to the challenge of tackling the "huge and historic imbalance in funding".

"GPs are doing all they can but we are being seriously crippled by a toxic mix of increasing workloads and ever-dwindling budgets, which is leaving patients waiting too long for an appointment and not receiving the time or attention they need and that GPs want to give them,” said Dr Baker. 

Funding for GPs is vital to protect the future of the NHS as a whole, Dr Baker said.

"Cutting funding to the bone is a false economy - by investing in general practice, we are shoring up the rest of the NHS from collapse," she added.

Dr Baker told BBC Radio 5 live that while budgets had dwindled over the past three years, demand for GP services was increasing - from 300 million consultations in 2008 to 340 million in 2012.

A DoH spokesperson said: "We recognise the vital job that GPs do.

"This is why we have cut GPs' targets by more than a third to free up more time with patients, and are dramatically increasing trainees so that GP numbers continue to grow faster than the population."


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Government surrenders to Meningitis-B vaccine

by Admin 21. March 2014 11:29

The government has given in to public pressure to make a previously-rejected meningitis-B vaccine available on the NHS.

The Department of Health (DH) has confirmed it will enter into negotiations to bring Novartis’ Bexsero vaccine to the NHS after initially rejecting the treatment for not being cost-effective.

More than 100 clinicians contacted the DH in the aftermath of the initial decision to block Bexsero, urging the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) who made the decision to reconsider. Experts also spoke out against the rejection, with a public petition adding to the widespread pressure on the DH to make the vaccine available.

Bexsero, which was approved by the European Medicines Association over a year ago, is believed to cover 80% of the meningitis-B disease, a highly aggressive strain that is contracted by around 1,870 people each year in the UK.    

Although the new vaccine will still be subject to “being made available by the manufacturer at a cost-effective price”, the JCVI has now u-turned on the initial decision, recommending the drug for addition to the “primary childhood programme” to immunise all infants from the age of two months.

Deputy chief medical officer, Professor John Watson, said the JCVI would “be working closely with Novartis in the coming months and, if negotiations are successful, we hope to work with other UK health departments to introduce a vaccine to prevent meningitis-B as quickly as possible.”

“This would make the UK the first country in the world to implement a nationwide vaccination programme,” he added.

Steve Dayman, founder of the charity Meningitis Now, said the decision was “the most monumental announcement in the fight against the disease in the 31 years I have campaigned”.   

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Drugs | News

£10m boost for maternity care

by Admin 21. March 2014 10:29

Department of Health provides £10m of extra funding to maternity services to improve care.

The Department of Health has announced it will be providing £10m of extra funding to help improve the standards of maternity care in select trusts across the country.

The extra funding will be divided between 63 trusts deemed most in need, with the government hopeful the cash will be spent on new equipment and on measures to improve the environment for women before, during and after the birth.

“This £10m investment has been targeted to the areas we know need it the most,” said health minister Dr Dan Poulter. “It has also provided a boost to the local economy by supporting local, hardworking companies who will carry out the work.”

Many of the trusts have already locally announced their plans for the cash, with most planning to improve existing facilities or create new ones, such as antenatal facilities and birthing units.

Cathy Warwick, chief executive of the Royal College of Midwives, said the funding was “very welcome”.

“Last year, the first tranche of funding made a big difference to our maternity unit and mothers, babies and families are experiencing better facilities. I look forward to seeing more units reap the benefits of securing a grant,” she said.

The Department of Health offered a similar funding boost for maternity services in 2013 as part of its ongoing efforts to improve the standard of maternity care across the NHS.

“Making sure families receive a good experience when having a baby in NHS maternity units is a top priority for me, both as a doctor and a health minister,” said Dr Poulter. 

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First new metastatic pancreatic cancer drug in 17 years

by Admin 21. March 2014 09:42

Abraxane is now available in England, becoming the first new treatment for metastatic pancreatic cancer in 17 years.  

Celegne’s Abraxane has been welcomed into England following the Cancer Drugs Fund (CDF)’s decision to fund the drug as a treatment for metastatic pancreatic cancer.

Abraxane, to be used in combination with gemcitabine, will now be available through NHS England as a treatment for metastatic pancreatic cancer, the first new option for those with the disease in almost two decades.

Pancreatic cancer is currently the fifth most common cancer in the UK and survival rates are among the lowest. Only 15.7% of those with the cancer survive longer than a year after diagnosis, and around 80% of patients are diagnosed when the cancer is so advanced that a cure is not an option.

De Sebastian Cummins, clinical director of oncology at Royal Surrey County Hospital, said the recent announcement of CDF support for Abraxane was “fantastic news”.

“This decision means that a new medicine is now available in a therapy area that has lacked substantial treatment advances for nearly two decades,” he said. 

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Drugs | News

Female lung cancer rates rise by 73%

by Admin 20. March 2014 13:51

Recent figures released by Cancer Research UK claim lung cancer rates for women have risen by 73% since 1975.

National charity Cancer Research UK has released figures that show the rate of women getting lung cancer has risen by 73% since 1975 while falling by 47% for men in the same period.

Currently, 41 women in every 100,000 are developing the disease compared to 23 in every 100,000 in 1975. The figures for men have dropped from 112 per 100,000 in 1975 to 59 currently. The charity suggested the disparity was due to the fact that the proportion of women smoking only started declining in the 1970s, while the proportion of men smoking began to reduce around two decades earlier.

While the overall rates of lung cancer have fallen by 20% since 1975, there are still high numbers of deaths recorded each year in the UK – latest figures claim there were 43,500 cases of lung cancer in 2011, with 35,200 deaths from the disease in the same year.

Dr Harpal Kumar, chief executive of Cancer Research UK, said the figures were a “stark reminder that lung cancer remains one of the biggest challenges in cancer research.”

The disease remains the second biggest killer in the UK and the most common cancer, killing twice the number of people than the second most common cancer (bowel).

Dr Kumar said the charity aimed to make the UK a “leader in lung cancer research”, while Sara Hiom, director of early diagnosis at Cancer Research, said the charity needed to “improve awareness of the possible signs and symptoms” and encourage people “to go to their doctor without delay”.

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General | News

NHS complaints system is ‘utterly bewildering’ says watchdog

by Admin 20. March 2014 11:23

Healthwatch England has called for an overhaul of the ‘utterly bewildering’ NHS complaints system.

The patients’ watchdog Healthwatch England has spoken out against the current NHS complaints system, deeming the process “utterly bewildering” and calling for “significant change” to be made.

Anna Bradley, chair of Healthwatch, spoke on behalf of the organisation to raise concerns over the complaints system’s complexity, suggesting the process was frustrating those accessing it and could be preventing service improvements being made.

“Now only [do] people not get an explanation and a sense of wrongs put right, but also the system itself doesn’t benefit from the learning that always comes from these poor experiences and...can’t make the appropriate improvements,” she said.

Bradley also warned that many other people were simply failing to raise issues of poor service due to the “bewildering” nature of the process. According to a survey conducted by the watchdog last year, more than half of the people who had a problem with health or social care didn’t report it, with three in five of those not knowing how to report issues.

Healthwatch found that up to 75 organisations can be involved in the handling of a single complaint, making the system “incredibly complex” and “frustrating for the individual”. The issue is exacerbated, suggested Bradley, by the difficulty in locating independent complaints advocacy services, which since April 2013 have been handled by local authorities.

To tackle the issues, Bradley called for a “single, properly resourced but comprehensive advocacy service across the whole health and social care under one branding”. She also suggested that this service could be offered by local Healthwatch organisations

In response to Bradley’s comments, Julie Mellow, Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman, said: “We agree with Healthwatch England that the current complaints system is too complex and we are working with the Department of Health, NHS England and regulators to help people better understand where they need to go when they want to raise a concern.”

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In-house doctors to cheer for GSK products

by Admin 20. March 2014 10:22

GlaxoSmithKline will use in-house doctors to champion products in a move towards greater transparency in marketing.

In a recent shake up of their sales and marketing regime, GSK has announced it will use in-house doctors and scientists to present information about their products to negate any suggestions of a lack of transparency in marketing.

The move towards in-house specialists rather than external product champions, which have recently been the norm, will help the company achieve its objective of terminating the practice of funding healthcare professionals to present product information at conferences by 2016.

Diedre Connelly, head of GSK operations in the US, said the company was hopeful that the changes would prevent any criticism of the marketing strategies of the company and make educational activities more transparent.

The change to GSK’s marketing regime comes alongside a shake-up of sales reps’ incentives. The company has confirmed they are moving away from individual targets, instead paying sales reps based on their technical knowledge, customer evaluations and overall performance.

These changes will be implemented immediately across GSK in the UK and the US, and are expected to be extended to other countries later in the year. 

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Innovative vaccine analysis service launched

by IainBate 20. March 2014 10:11

A specialist new vaccine formulation and analysis service has been introduced for the biopharmaceuticals sector.

Advanced, precise and highly informative analytical techniques are the basis of the new XstalBio Analytics vaccine service. The service will be centred on its proprietary solid state Circular Dichroism (ssCD) capability alongside highly specialised orthogonal analytical techniques and an increased range of vaccine analysis, formulation and stability testing services.

The XstalBio Analytics’ approach to vaccine analysis and formulation takes a holistic view, aimed at understanding the antigen-adjuvant interaction and the consequences for antigen structural integrity, potency and stability. 

By bringing these specialist techniques together, the new service is designed to combine a comprehensive vaccine analysis capability with an effective solution to the need to directly analyse the biopharmaceutical antigen while it is bound to its particulate adjuvant.

The new XstalBio Analytics service incorporates an array of techniques for vaccine analysis and characterisation that are all fully compliant with ICH Q6B recommendations. This includes conformance with ICH Q6B’s spectroscopic characterisation requirements for colloidal formulations that could not previously be analysed by traditional techniques due to particle-induced artefacts.    

Furthermore, XstalBio Analytics’ approach to stability studies is designed for regulatory compliance with ICHQ1A R2 and ICHQ1E for stability testing. 

The new service will be provided from XstalBio’s state of the art research centre in Glasgow and will be headed by Dr. Allan Watkinson, who has extensive experience in vaccine development, formulation, analytics, GMP manufacturing and stability.

Dr Watkinson said: “The use of cutting edge analytical technologies enables us to overcome many of the issues traditionally associated with the detailed structural analysis of colloidal vaccine formulations. 

“Structural data can be obtained in situ without desorption of the antigen, enabling us to deliver an innovative approach to assist with vaccine formulation, characterisation and stability studies. 

“This, together with our experience and expertise in formulating vaccines, ensures we can deliver an unrivalled opportunity to accelerate the development of a customer’s vaccine candidate.”  


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Drugs | News

Early access to cutting-edge drugs

by Admin 20. March 2014 09:54

The Early Access to Medicines Scheme will see the fast tracking of cutting edge medicines to patients in the UK.

The scheme, which aims to strengthen Britain's science, research and development industry, will make the UK one of the best countries in the world to capitalise on breakthroughs in medical care.

Severely ill patients with life threatening and seriously debilitating conditions will be offered the lifeline of trying groundbreaking new medicines years before they would normally have access to them.  

The Early Access to Medicines scheme will see doctors working with patients to make innovative and promising drugs available as soon as an initial scientific assessment by the UK regulator – the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) – signals that the benefits outweigh the risks. 

The scheme is a significant one for the pharmaceutical sector, providing a platform for drugs to be brought to patients at an unprecedented rate. Pharma companies will be able to work closely with regulators to look at the value of the drugs and gain guidance and advice much earlier in the regulatory process by seeing where their medicines are being used in the NHS. 

Paul Catchpole, Director of Value and Access at the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI), said: “The Early Access to Medicines scheme will benefit patients, the NHS and the UK clinical research community, of which our industry is a part. 

“Most importantly, it means that patients with some life-threatening or seriously debilitating conditions, without adequate treatment options, will be able to get faster access to important innovative medicines as these will be made available before launch, following an assessment by the MHRA.”

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt said: “Making Britain the best place in the world for science, research and development is a central part of our long term economic plan. This ground-breaking scheme will provide cutting edge medicines earlier, give hope to patients and their families and save lives.” 


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Drugs | News

Online patient reviews in “transparency” question

by Admin 20. March 2014 09:33

The NHS has removed hundreds of patient reviews of a healthcare trust from its website, after BBC’s Newsnight programme found that the system could be open to abuse.

The programme found that in 2013, 49% of patient reviews on the NHS Choices website - 105 of 216 - about Nottinghamshire Healthcare Trust had in fact come from staff accounts. Almost half of those accounts had not declared a conflict of interest. 

It is known that NHS members of staff often help patients who are unable to post reviews themselves, including those with mental health problems, learning difficulties, the elderly, or those without internet access. However the trust agreed that it needed to be clearer about who wrote them.

Most of the reviews posted without staff declaring a conflict of interest were from staff accounts that at other times had declared themselves when posting reviews on the behalf of patients. 

The reviews, originally posted to independent feedback website Patient Opinion, had been syndicated to appear on the NHS Choices website. 

A spokesman for Nottinghamshire Healthcare NHS Trust said: "We acknowledge that postings need to be clearer about who is writing them and we are working on a solution for this, internally and with Patient Opinion.

"We have created a public website so that anyone can see what is being said about our services because we want to be open and honest about the feedback we receive."

Neil Churchill, director of patient experience for NHS England, said: "The issue here is transparency."


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