Alcohol advisory body stacked with drinks industry lobbyists

Drinks industry lobbyists now make up almost half the members of a key body tasked with advising ministers on alcohol policy, research papers show.
Alcohol advisory body stacked with drinks industry lobbyistsSeven out of 16 members of the Government and Partners Alcohol Working Group are from industry, up from just a couple last autumn.

Critics believe it is evidence that the Coalition is pandering to the interests of the drinks industry, potentially at the expense of the nation’s health.

Some nine million people in Britain suffer from the harms of alcohol in some, either directly or indirectly, while the cost to the NHS stands at £2.7 billion a year.

Don Shenker, chief executive of the charity Alcohol Concern, believed companies were being allowed a bigger say in “setting the agenda” under the Coalition.

Speaking of the changes to the working group “I can only imagine it’s because this government believes that the drinks industry has a big role to play in shaping policy, in setting the agenda.

“And so they have extended the invitations to a larger set of people from the drinks industry.”

However, Anne Milton, the Public Health Minister, claimed ignorance of the body.

She said: “I think we have a communications problem in Whitehall because you know something that I have never heard of before.”

In opposition David Cameron talked tough on alcohol abuse, and the Conservatives’ manifesto said the party would ban off-licences and supermarkets from selling alcohol below cost price.

In January the Coalition announced that retailers would be banned from selling drinks for less than the value of duty and VAT.

But they will not have to take into account the cost of producing the drinks, meaning they will still be able to sell drinks at a net loss.

The Coalition has pursued an approach of working with industry, arguing it will be more effective than legislation.

However, in March eight organisations pulled out of the Coalition’s Public Health Responsibility Deal – including Alcohol Concern, the Institute of Alcohol Studies and the British Liver Trust.

They wrote to Andrew Lansley, the Health Secretary, saying the deal on alcohol – which includes voluntary agreements with industry – would not help reduce illness or deaths.

At the time Mr Lansley said imposing laws was often “costly” and they could “take years” to implement.

A spokesman for the Department of Health yesterday re-iterated that argument.

She did not deny that changes to the working group had been made.

The spokesman said: “We are committed to challenging the assumption that the only way to change people’s behaviour is through adding to rules and regulations.


Making music can help overcome depression

It might not have worked for such legendarily gloomy composers as Beethoven, Schumann or Morrissey, but according to academics making music can help overcome depression.
Making music can help overcome depressionResearchers found that adults who were given music therapy sessions, in which they played drums or instruments such as xylophones, showed fewer symptoms of depression or anxiety than those who just had standard counselling.

They suggest that it helped patients express their emotions as well as well as being a pleasurable activity in its own right.

Professor Jaakko Erkkilä, who led the study at the University of Jyväskylä in Finland, said: “We found that people often expressed their inner pressure and feelings by drumming or with the tones produced with a mallet instrument. Some people described their playing experience as cathartic.”

Prof Christian Gold added: “Our trial has shown that music therapy, when added to standard care including medication, psychotherapy and counselling, helps people to improve their levels of depression and anxiety.

“Music therapy has specific qualities that allow people to express themselves and interact in a non-verbal way – even in situations when they cannot find the words to describe their inner experiences.”

The clinical trial, the results of which are published in the British Journal of Psychiatry, involved the study of 79 people aged between 18 and 50 who had been diagnosed with depression.

Of these, 46 received anti-depressants, psychotherapy and counselling while the other 33 were also offered 20 music therapy sessions.

The hour-long sessions involved a trained music therapist helping the patients make music using an African djembe drum and a digital mallet instrument, with their tunes recorded so they could be listened to later.

The participants in each group were followed up afterwards, with the researchers finding that those who had the music therapy had “significantly” fewer symptoms of depression and anxiety three months later.

Differences remained after six months but they were no longer statistically significant.

The fact that most of the music group attended 18 out of the 20 sessions they were offered suggested they were interested in it.

In an accompanying editorial Dr Mike Crawford, Reader in Mental Health Services Research at Imperial College London, said: “This is a high-quality randomised trial of music therapy specifically for depression, and the results suggest that it can improve the mood and general functioning of people with depression.

“Music-making is social, pleasurable and meaningful. It has been argued that music making engages people in ways that words may simply not be able to.”


Women’s cancer rates higher in Britain than Europe

More British women are developing cancer than the average across Europe a leading charity claims.
Women's cancer rates higher in Britain than EuropeOfficial figures suggest almost a fifth more women in this country develop the disease before the age of 75 compared with those on the continent.

The World Cancer Research Fund, which unearthed the data, fears that the difference could be down to the fact that British women drink and eat too much.

Dr Rachel Thompson, Deputy Head of Science for WCRF, said: “On average, women in the UK are more likely to be overweight and to drink more alcohol than the European average and this is a concern because both these factors increase cancer risk.

“They are not the only reasons for the differing cancer rates, but there is now very strong evidence that women who drink a lot of alcohol are at increased risk of developing the disease and that excess body fat is also an important risk factor.

“This is why one of the big public health challenges we face today is to reduce the amount of alcohol we drink as a nation and to get a grip on the obesity crisis before it spirals out of control.

“Together with other factors such as being physically active and eating a healthy plant-based diet without too much salt or red and processed meat, these changes could make a real difference to the number of women who develop cancer before the age of 75.

“Overall, we estimate about a third of the most common cancers could be prevented by eating healthily, being physically active and maintaining a healthy weight. And for breast cancer, which is the most common type of cancer, about four in 10 cases could be prevented through lifestyle changes.”

Recent estimates suggest that four out of 10 Britons will develop cancer at some point in their lives.

The Office for National Statistics reported last month that 130,043 women were newly diagnosed with the disease in England alone in 2009, a rise of 2.6 per cent on the previous year.

By far the most common type among females is breast cancer, with 40,260 cases in 2009. About a quarter of those who develop such tumours die, despite widespread screening and the development of better drugs in recent decades.

According to World Health Organisation figures, 25 per cent of women across Britain develop cancer by the age of 75.

This is almost 20 per cent more than the average of 21 per cent recorded across Europe.


Hundreds of preteen children treated for eating disorders

Almost 600 children below the age of 13 have been treated in hospital for eating disorders in the past three years, new figures have revealed.
Hundreds of preteen children treated for eating disordersThe statistics include 197 children between the ages of five and nine – with cases within this age group almost doubling over the period.

Experts blamed the trend on a “pernicious” celebrity culture which glorified size zero figures, leaving increasing numbers of young girls struggling to cope with their growing bodies.

The figures, from 35 NHS hospitals in England, show more than 2,100 children were treated for eating disorders before they reached their sixteenth birthday.

They include 98 children aged between five and seven at the time of treatment and 99 aged eight or nine. Almost 400 were between the ages of 10 and 12, while more than 1,500 were aged 13 to 15.

Even these statistics, disclosed under the Freedom of Information Act, are likely to be an underestimate.

Some NHS hospitals treating such patients refused to provide any data, while among the 35 hospitals, some would only disclose the figures for those children admitted to wards after becoming dangerously emaciated – excluding those undergoing psychiatric therapy as outpatients.

Susan Ringwood, chief executive of eating disorders charity B-eat said the figures reflected alarming trends in society, with young children “internalising” messages from celebrity magazines, which idealised the thinnest figures.

“A number of factors combine to trigger eating disorders; biology and genetics play a large part in their development, but so do cultural pressures, and body image seems to be influencing younger children much more over the past decade,” she added.

Research carried out by the charity with the Brownies found that even by the age of seven, girls who looked at outline drawing of women thought the thinner ones were happier and more popular than those with slightly larger outlines.

Mrs Ringwood said young girls felt increasingly frightened by the prospect of gaining weight in puberty. She said: “Children are receiving very pernicious messages.

“The ideal figure promoted for women these days is that of a girl, not an adult women. Girls see the pictures in magazines of extremely thin women and think that is how they should be.

“That can leave them fearful of puberty, and almost trying to stave it off.”

In 2009, Kate Moss, the supermodel, was accused of encouraging girls to become anorexic when she said she lived by the phrase ‘nothing tastes as good as skinny feels’ – a mantra of pro-anorexic groups.

While disorders among men are increasing, cases involving boys were often sparked by specific incidents, such as being bullied because of their weight, she said.

Separate research published in the British Journal of Psychiatry earlier this year suggests one in five children diagnosed with an eating disorder have a history of early feeding problems, such as fussy eating.

Almost half of those diagnosed with disorders by the age of 12 had a close family member with a mental health problem such as anxiety or depression.

The study by the University College London’s Institute of Child Health found more than 80 per cent of cases involved girls, with anorexia – which involves drastically reducing the intake of food and drink – far more common than bulimia – which involves sufferers binge eating and then making themselves sick.

Last year a survey of women suffering from anorexia found almost half said they had a problem with food by the age of 10.

Experts say there is no clear relationship between “fussy eating” and the later development of a disorder.

But Mrs Ringwood said some particular behaviours with food – such as cutting it into tiny pieces, or insisting that foods were eaten separately, could indicate early signs of a more significant problem.

Other types of behaviour which had nothing to do with food could provide some clues, she said.

“If children become very rigid in their routines and get upset if changes are made that can be an indicator of the type of anxiety associated with disorders,” she said.

Even young children who were trying to restrict their diet could be stealthy about it, she said, hiding food up their sleeves at mealtimes, in order to throw it away.


Labour own goal on postcode lottery claims

Deprived areas in England will lose out to affluent parts of the country under health spending reforms Labour has claimed- despite repeatedly creating those same postcode lotteries when they were in power.
Labour own goal on postcode lottery claimsChanges to funding formulas means poor health rates will be given less consideration when cash is allocated, the party said.

It suggested areas like Manchester and the London borough of Tower Hamlets would lose out to parts of the wealthy south east, such as Surrey and Hampshire.

Labour based the claims on an assessment of funding reforms by public health bodies in Manchester.

But the government has disputed the allegations and claimed Labour’s figures were misleading.

Department of Health officials said primary care budgets in Surrey and Tower Hamlets would go up by a similar amount this year.

The Conservatives claimed every area would have suffered health funding cuts under Labour.

A Conservative party spokesman said: “This is yet another own goal from Labour. If they had won the last election, the NHS would now be being cut by £28 billion across the country. Every area would have seen spending on the NHS cut – as it is in Labour-run Wales.

“This Government is increasing spending on the NHS in real terms over this parliament, and every region of the country will receive more money as a result of this investment.”

Health Direct has repeatedly tracked Labour’s proud boast when it was in power of creating postcode lotteries based on it’s voting constituencies:

Friday, April 13, 2007 Labour voting areas get most PFI NHS cash

Wednesday, November 22, 2006 Hewitt defends NHS cash for Labour voting areas

Tuesday, October 24, 2006 NHS cuts twice as likely in Tory and Lib Dem areas

Monday, September 25, 2006 NHS closures rigged in Labour voting constituencies

Friday, September 15, 2006 Labour accused over hospital cuts in marginal constituencies

Fertility doctors attack unethical £20 IVF raffle

A nationwide lottery offering couples the chance to win IVF fertility treatment was strongly criticised. Fertility doctors attack unethical £20 IVF raffleAt its launch, a UK-based charity offered people – couples or singles of both sexes – the chance to win £25,000 for a round of IVF treatment at a “top clinic”, in return for a £20 ticket.

The lottery is being organised by the charity To Hatch, founded by Camille Strachan, 38, to help people who are struggling to conceive. The winner of the lottery, which is licensed by the UK Gambling Commission, will be randomly selected by a computer in September. Further monthly draws are then planned.

Ms Strachan says she hoped the lottery “can ease the burden on the NHS and reduce the stress on some of those who are struggling.”

It is understood that a number of UK clinics have refused to participate, sparking rumours that a clinic in Barbados would be one of the destinations. Ms Strachan has declined to reveal which “top” clinics would offer the treatment.

The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) have criticised the move as “wrong and entirely inappropriate”. They described it as running “counter to the ethos that underpins our regulatory system and clinical practice”.

Dr Allan Pacey, a fertility expert at the University of Sheffield and a spokesperson for the British Fertility Society, said: “In my view it’s a slippery slope to be dishing out healthcare like this, particularly when it comes to children. My mother and father used to say they found me under a gooseberry bush – can you imagine telling a child that he or she was won in a raffle?

“Ethics aside, I think it is precisely the current postcode lottery of NHS funding which makes this charity think it can make this venture a success. Couples either find they can’t get access to NHS treatment or they get only a single attempt and therefore need to fund any further treatment privately if that is unsuccessful.”

Despite criticism of the charity, public responses on internet chat forums were mixed. Although the majority expressed misgivings, hundreds of people indicated on Facebook and Twitter that they intended to buy tickets.

Many took the view that the lottery is a good idea, given what is widely perceived as a cut in the provision of IVF treatment on the NHS.

A spokesman for the Gambling Commission, which regulates lotteries, said: “The commission plays no statutory role in judging ethical questions that fall outside of the Gambling Act 2005. A licence is granted if all the criteria are met.”


Drinking wine could help to stop sunburn

Drinking wine or eating grapes could protect you from sunburn, according to a new study that found a chemical in the fruit can limit cell damage.
Drinking wine could help to stop sunburnUltraviolet (UV) rays emitted by the sun are the leading environmental cause of skin complaints, premature ageing, sun burn and even skin cancer.

But in another nod towards the healthy mediteranean diet, Spanish scientists found substances in the grapes protect cells from the damage.

Already cosmetic companies are registering interest in the hope of making sun creams or pills that copy the process.

The University of Barcelona and the Spanish National Research Council looked at the chemical reaction in the skin when hit by UV rays from the sun.

They found that flavonoids in the grapes can stop the chemical reaction that causes cells to die and therefore skin damage.

The study, carried out in vitro in the laboratory, has been published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry.

Marta Cascante, a biochemist at the University of Barcelona and director of the research project, said it proves grapes could help protect the skin from sun burn and even skin cancer.

She said the research could help to develop skin creams and other products to protect skin from sun damage.

“This study supports the idea of using these products to protect the skin from cell damage and death caused by solar radiation, as well as increasing our understanding of the mechanism by which they act”, she said.

The study also adds to the popular image of the healthy and tanned population of the mediteranean.

Previous research has put the low cancer rates and good health down to tomatoes, olive oil and even red wine.


NHS rationing operations- cataracts, hips, knees and tonsils in the firing line

Hip replacements, cataract surgery and tonsil removal are among operations now being rationed in a bid to save the NHS money.
NHS rationing operations- cataracts, hips, knees and tonsils in the firing lineTwo thirds of health trusts in England are rationing treatments for “non-urgent” conditions as part of the drive to reduce costs in the NHS by £20bn over the next four years. One in three primary-care trusts (PCTs) has expanded the list of procedures it will restrict funding to in the past 12 months.

Examples of the rationing now being used include:

  • Hip and knee replacements only being allowed where patients are in severe pain. Overweight patients will be made to lose weight before being considered for an operation.
  • Cataract operations being withheld from patients until their sight problems “substantially” affect their ability to work.
  • Patients with varicose veins only being operated on if they are suffering “chronic continuous pain”, ulceration or bleeding.
  • Tonsillectomy (removing tonsils) only to be carried out in children if they have had seven bouts of tonsillitis in the previous year.
  • Grommets to improve hearing in children only being inserted in “exceptional circumstances” and after monitoring for six months.
  • Funding has also been cut in some areas for IVF treatment on the NHS.

The alarming figures emerged from a survey of 111 PCTs by the health-service magazine GP, using the Freedom of Information Act.

Doctors are known to be concerned about how the new rationing is working – and how it will affect their relationships with patients.

Birmingham is looking at reducing operations in gastroenterology, gynaecology, dermatology and orthopaedics. Parts of east London were among the first to introduce rationing, where some patients are being referred for homeopathic treatments instead of conventional treatment.

Medway had deferred treatment for non-urgent procedures this year while Dorset is “looking at reducing the levels of limited effectiveness procedures”.

Chris Naylor, a senior researcher at the health think tank the King’s Fund, said the rationing decisions being made by PCTs were a consequence of the savings the NHS was being asked to find.

“Blunt approaches like seeking an overall reduction in local referral rates may backfire, by reducing necessary referrals – which is not good for patients and may fail to save money in the long run,” he said. “There are always rationing decisions that have to go on in any health service. But at the moment healthcare organisations are under more pressure than they have been for a long time and this is a sign of what is happening across many areas of the NHS.”

According to responses from the 111 trusts to freedom-of-information requests, 64 per cent of them have now introduced rationing policies for non-urgent treatments and those of limited clinical value. Of those PCTs that have not introduced restrictions, a third are working with GPs to reduce referrals or have put in place peer-review systems to assess referrals.

In the last year, 35 per cent of PCTs have added procedures to lists of treatments they no longer fund because they deem them to be non-urgent or of limited clinical value.

Some trusts expect to save over £1m by restricting referrals from GPs.

Chaand Nagpaul, a member of the British Medical Association’s GPs committee, said he was concerned about PCTs applying different low-priority thresholds and rationing access to treatments on the basis of local policies.

He said the Government needed to decide on a consistent set of national standards of “low priority” treatments to help remove post-code lotteries in provision. “Patients and the public recognise that with limited resources we need to make the maximum health gains and so there needs to be prioritisation. What is inequitable is that different PCTs are applying different thresholds and criteria,” he said.

A Department of Health spokesman said: “Decisions on the appropriate treatments should be made by clinicians in the local NHS in line with the best available clinical evidence and Nice [National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence] guidance. There should be no blanket bans because what is suitable for one patient may not be suitable for another.”


UK has too many hospital births

Maternity services across the UK need a radical rethink, the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists says.
UK has too many hospital birthsIt wants the number of hospital units cut to ensure 24-hour access to care from senior doctors and says more midwife-led units are needed for women with low-risk pregnancies.

The National Childbirth Trust welcomed the report but says the proposals do not go far enough.

NHS managers said maternity care desperately needed to be reorganised.

Too many babies are born in traditional hospital units, says the college, which also warns the current system is neither acceptable nor sustainable in its report on maternity care.

The college estimates there are about 1,000 too few consultants to provide adequate round-the-clock cover for hospital units.

Dr Falconer said: “There is no doubt if you look at the worst scenario of serious complications, you need the right person, a senior person, there immediately.”

Previous attempts to re-organise maternity care around a smaller number of hospital units have proved controversial, but Dr Falconer said if women could be convinced of the greater safety they would be prepared to travel to have their babies.

The need for change would be largely in cities or large towns, because in rural areas it might be more important to support smaller units.

The report estimates that across the UK there are 56 units with fewer than 2,500 deliveries of babies a year.

In order to take the pressure off busy hospitals, the college is also calling for an increase in the number of midwife-led units.

Midwives have welcomed the report, saying it could improve the experience for about a third of women who have straightforward deliveries.

The proposals for maternity are part of a wider vision of delivering all women’s gynaecology and obstetrics care in networks, similar to the model which has helped improve cancer treatments in England.

The National Childbirth Trust said the idea of having a network to provide joined-up care for women was one it could support but it would prefer care during pregnancy and maternity to be concentrated in one NHS organisation in each area.

The NHS confederation, which speaks for managers, described maternity care as a classic example of a service which desperately needed to be reorganised.

Chief executive Mike Farrar said politicians needed to be prepared to speak up for change.

“Where the case for change is clear, politicians should stand shoulder-to-shoulder with managers and clinicians to provide confidence to their constituents that quality and care will improve as a consequence of this change.”

Although Scotland has reorganised some of its maternity services, there are likely to be pressures for change elsewhere in the UK.

In North Wales maternity care across three hospitals is expected to change after an initial review recently concluded improvement was needed.


NHS pays £20 for a loaf of bread that costs £2 in a supermarket

The NHS is spending more than £20 for a loaf of gluten-free bread, 10 times more than the £2 charged for a standard small (400g) gluten-free loaf in Sainsbury’s.
NHS pays £20 for a loaf of bread that costs £2 in a supermarketGluten provokes painful inflammation of the bowel in people who have an immune-response allergy to the protein, found in wheat, rye and barley products. The condition is known as Coeliac Disease.

In the past, gluten-free products were difficult and costly to get hold of, and many people obtained them via prescription. They are now commonly found on supermarket shelves and their cost has come down.

While they cost more than standard versions, typically up to twice as much, the NHS appears to be paying well over the odds.

Darren Millar, the Conservative shadow minister for health in the Welsh Assembly, found out that the NHS in Wales paid £984,185 for 47,684 gluten-free loaves last year — or £20.64 a loaf. In an answer to a question he put to the assembly, he was also told that packets of gluten-free pasta were costing the NHS £11.54 per bag. Similar packs cost £2 in supermarkets.

Ginger snap biscuits cost £10.07, compared with £2.35 in the shops, and wheat-free gravy mix £15.21, rather than £2.59.

Mr Millar said: “It’s currently costing the NHS 10 times more for this bread than the price in a supermarket.

“Many taxpayers will question why they are also footing the bill for hundreds of thousands of pounds worth of snacks such as biscuits and cakes.”

“Foods of this type have become much more widely available and yet the number of prescriptions has risen.”

A spokesman for the TaxPayers’ Alliance said: “It smacks of incompetence that the Welsh NHS is paying so much more than they are available for in the shops.

“This doesn’t look like taxpayers are getting value for money.”

Dr David Bailey, chairman of the British Medical Association’s GP committee in Wales, added: “It makes little sense for gluten-free foods to be prescribed.”

In 2010, the NHS in Wales, which serves a population of three million, spent just over £2 million on gluten-free products.

Given that the population of Britain is some 20 times that, it is likely that the overall NHS bill stands at £40 million, although in England some patients pay prescription charges.

Mr Millar commented: “That’s a heck of a sum of money. When cash is short, should we really be spending public money on such things? I think not.”

Sarah Sleet, chief executive of the charity Coeliac UK, said the high costs resulted from bureaucratic supply chains in the NHS.

She called for greater efficiency but said such items should still be available on prescription for sufferers.

“It’s in the interest of the NHS to keep people with coeliac healthy, and prescriptions play an important role in this,” she said.

A spokesman for Lesley Griffiths, the Welsh health minister, said: “Work is now under way to identify savings that can be made in reducing the number of gluten-free products prescribed by the NHS.”