Health Direct wishes you a healthy, happy and prosperous New Year

Health Direct wishes you a healthy, happy and prosperous New Year.Health Direct wishes you a healthy, happy and prosperous New YearHealth Direct wishes you a healthy, happy and prosperous New Year in 2012 and thanks you for your comments, posts and support throughout 2011.

We would also like to take the opportunity to thank and support all of those hard working professionals within the NHS- without whom we would all be paddleless.

Record number of patients catch infections in hospitals

The number of patients who contracted life threatening infections in NHS hospitals has almost doubled in two years to a record level, official figures have shown.Record number of patients catch infections in hospitalsRecorded cases of patients with a “nosocomial condition” – any infection acquired in hospital or a medical environment – also rose by more than a third last year compared with the year before.

A large proportion of the patients involved were aged over 75, the figures from the NHS Information Centre show. Illnesses related to such infections led to average stays in hospital last year of 31.1 days.

Experts blamed poor hygiene for the dramatic rise in infections, including superbugs MRSA and Clostridium difficile (C. diff) as well as norovirus and E.coli.

But the Department of Health dismissed the “misleading” figures, published online, saying that officials have “got better and better at tackling hospital infections”.

According to the new figures, supplied by NHS hospitals, the number of patients found by consultants to have hospital acquired infections rose last year reached a record 42,712.

That figure increased from the 31,447 recorded in the previous year and almost double the 22,448 documented in 2008/09.

Last year’s figures were the highest levels recorded in the 13 years in which the records have been publicly available. In 1998/99 there were just 335 such cases. The Centre did not provide a breakdown of illnesses.

It came as the Health Protection Agency said that there were 46 suspected outbreaks of norovirus in hospitals over the past two weeks, with more than half leading to ward closures or admissions restrictions.

The agency said the levels were within seasonal norms.

Commenting on the overall infection levels Joyce Robins, co-director of Patient Concern, said the figures were a “terrifying prospect for vulnerable elderly people who think they are going into hospital to get better”.

“It contrasts sharply with the happy propaganda that has been telling us that infection rates had dropped sharply,” she said.

A DoH spokesman said: “The NHS has got better and better at tackling hospital infections, demonstrated by the record lows we have seen this year.

“Because we are not complacent, we have introduced mandatory reporting of more hospital infections. That means that we have shone a light on the problems previously swept under the carpet.  But patients should be confident that the measures we have taken will continue the downward trend in hospital infections.”

Alcohol hospital admissions double in a decade

The number of people being admitted to hospital after drinking too much alcohol has more than doubled in less than a decade, new research show.Alcohol hospital admissions double in a decadeSome 1,173,386 people in England were admitted to casualty for injuries or illnesses caused by drinking in 2010/11, compared with just 510,780 in 2002/3, according to the research.

The figures for last year represent an 11 per cent increase on the previous 12 months, when alcohol-related admissions stood at 1,056,962.

Separate information published by Anne Milton, the public health minister, showed that since January an estimated 7,074 under-18s have been admitted to hospital due to alcohol abuse.

A recent report predicted that binge drinking will cost the NHS £3.8 billion by 2015, with 1.5 million A&E admissions a year.

Andrew Lansley, the Health Secretary, blamed Labour’s 24-hour drinking policy and accused the last government of “taking their eye of the ball” on the issue of binge drinking.

He said: “These figures are disturbing evidence that, despite total consumption of alcohol not increasing recently, we have serious problems with both binge-drinking and long-term excessive alcohol abuse in a minority of people.

“Our alcohol strategy, which we will set out in the new year, will outline what further steps we are taking to tackle this growing problem.”

Recent Local Alcohol Profiles for England figures also show that the number of hospital admissions for conditions attributable to alcohol are rising at a similar rate.

The number of admissions has more than doubled since 2002/03 and increased by nine per cent last year.

In 2002/03 there were 926 admissions per 100,000 people for conditions caused by alcohol, rising to 1,743 per 100,000 in 2009/10 and 1,898 last year.

The biggest increase over the past 12 months was in London, with a jump in admissions of 14 per cent, followed by the East of England with 10 per cent.

Norovirus bug outbreak at 35 hospitals closes dozens of wards

Health officials have issued a warning about the serious threat posed by the norovirus bug after an outbreak has seen cases jump by 20 per cent on this time last year.Norovirus bug outbreak at 35 hospitals closes dozens of wardsThe winter diarrhoea and vomiting bug has affected 35 hospitals, with hundreds of beds unavailable after 27 wards were shut in the past two weeks to isolate infected patients and deep cleaned.

Overall confirmed individual cases across the country from July to mid-December are 19 per cent higher than during the same period last year.

Norovirus is extremely contagious and can be lethal to the elderly, very young or very sick patients.

People who have been ill are being asked not to visit friends and relatives in hospital until they are well.

Medical bosses at hospitals across the country are working to prevent the condition spreading and to reopen wards that were closed yesterday.

Nationally data from the Health Protection Agency released last week shows that norovirus rates remain below the level expected for this time of year, possibly reflecting the mild weather until now.

The HPA declares norovirus season has started when 4.8 per cent of calls to NHS Direct are about vomiting. Last week there were 4.2 per cent of calls about vomiting.

The first sign of Norovirus is usually a sudden sick feeling followed by forceful vomiting and watery diarrhoea. Other symptoms include a raised temperature, headaches, stomach cramps and aching limbs.

The data showed that last week the North East and South West were the worst affected.

Three hospitals reported that 124 beds are unavailable as a result of the ward closures. It is thought that the true number across all eight hospitals will be more than 200.

Wards were also closed to new patients at Montagu Hospital in South Yorkshire while 82 beds were closed on two wards at Northwick Park in Harrow, north London.

Croydon Health Services said it had one ward closed to new admissions.

Two wards were also closed at Warwick Hospital and the Richard Wells Ward was shut at Bedford hospital to contain a bout of gastroenteritis.

Director of nursing and patient services at Bedford hospital, Eiri Jones, warned visitors not to sit on hospital beds and not to visit at all if they had been ill in the preceding 72 hours.

Queens Hospital in Burton had one ward temporarily closed after a number of cases of diarrhoea and vomiting while the Countess of Chester Hospital had visiting restrictions in place at four wards to contain the outbreak.

A 14-bed ward at the University Hospital Southampton Trust was closed and County Durham and Darlington said it had seen isolated cases but had not had to close any wards.

Visitors to Northern Devon hospitals were warned only close relatives should visit patients and Mid Essex Hospital Trust said it had closed wards last weekend because of a similar outbreak.

The Royal College of GPs say the virus has not been a major problem so far this year – although outbreaks can occur very quickly, as the complaint is extremely infectious.

A statement from the Health Protection Agency said: “Norovirus is highly contagious and can be transmitted by contact with an infected person; by consuming contaminated food or water or by contact with contaminated surfaces or objects. The virus spreads rapidly in closed environments such as hospitals, schools, nursing and residential homes.

“Anyone who thinks they may have norovirus should not to go to their doctor’s surgery or A&E as this could spread the illness to vulnerable people and health care workers.”

Scandal of NHS production line as readmissions soared under labour’s red tape

The number of NHS patients who have to undergo emergency readmission to hospital within a month of being discharged has increased by more than three quarters over the last decade, the Daily Telegraph has disclosed.Scandal of NHS production line as readmissions soared under labour's red tapeHospitals have been accused by ministers of treating patients “like parts on a production line” after official figures suggested that hundreds of thousands of people every year are being sent home before they are well enough.

More than 660,000 people were brought back to hospital last year within 28 days of leaving, statistics show, sparking allegations that patients are being “hurried through the system” so the NHS can meet waiting-list targets.

The official figures show that some NHS trusts have seen their emergency readmission rate rise more than threefold over the past decade – while some hospitals have seen only a modest increase.

Last night, Andrew Lansley, the Health Secretary, said that the “hugely distressing” trend must stop.

“Patients have a right to expect that when they go in for treatment that they are looked after properly and that the treatment they are given helps them to recover,” he said.

“Having to be readmitted and treated all over again is hugely distressing. These figures show how Labour’s obsession with waiting time targets meant that patients were treated like parts on a production line to be hurried through the system rather than like people who need to be properly cared for.”

The Department of Health has released detailed information on the number of emergency readmissions in every area across Britain.

The figures show that 620,054 patients had to be readmitted in 2009-10 – compared to just 348,996 a decade before, a 78 per cent increase. Over the past five years, there has been a 31 per cent rise and a five per cent increase on the previous 12 months.

The data also highlights the widespread regional variations. The rate of readmission in the Kensington & Chelsea PCT area has risen by 287 per cent over the past decade to 1,582 people.

However, North Lincolnshire PCT has only experienced a 3.37 per cent rise over the same period.

Hospitals within the Hampshire PCT area readmitted 13,239 people last year. The nearby area covered by the Isle of Wight PCT only had to readmit 1,098 people.

The figures, do not include patients suffering from cancer or mental health problems or maternity patients.

Most of the areas with the highest increases in readmission numbers are in London and the south east, where pressure is greatest on the NHS. The Department of Health has analysed the social make-up of each area and concludes that the so-called “thriving London periphery” – the relatively wealthy commuter hinterland around the capital has suffered the biggest recent deterioration.

About 10 million people are admitted to hospital wards each year. Critics claim that government targets, such as the demand that patients be admitted to hospital for treatment within 18 weeks of seeing their GP, mean hospital managers are pressured into releasing patients early to make beds available.

Earlier this month, The Daily Telegraph disclosed that the Government is moving from a system of targets for hospitals based on waiting and treatment times – to a system of so-called “outcomes” which measures the success of treatment.

In a criticism of previous targets which he blames for the increase in emergency readmissions, Mr Lansley said: “Instead of focusing on the results which actually matter for patients, they focused on narrow processes to the detriment of patient care. That is why we have taken action to address these increases in emergency readmissions.

“One of the new goals we are setting the NHS is reducing emergency readmissions. In order to help achieve this we have created a re-ablement fund of £300 million and we have taken action to stop hospitals being paid when they readmit a patient after discharging them too early. These steps will turn Labour’s poor performance around.”

Under the Government scheme, hospitals will effectively be responsible for people’s care in the weeks after they return home and will be financially penalised for discharging patients too soon.


IVF women still receiving two embryos despite twin risk

The majority of women having IVF treatment still have two embryos implanted in the womb despite clinics being warned of the risks of multiple pregnancies and having targets to reduce them.IVF women still receiving two embryos despite twin riskTwo thirds of women having IVF treatment have two embyos placed in the womb, increasing the likelihood of them having twins, figures from the regulator have shown.

It comes after the Daily Telegraph revealed that 100 feotuses were aborted last year because they were part of a multiple pregnancy which carries greater risks of birth defects and complications.

The latest figures from the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority have shown that multiple pregnancies are reducing and are down from over one quarter in 2008 to one fifth last year.

Clinics have been told that women under 37 should be advised that it is normally best for them to have one embryo put back into the womb at a time.

However the HFEA data show that 64 per cent of women had two embryos put back in the womb last year.

Only one in six opted for a single embryo and a similar proportion had no choice because only one embryo was produced.

In 2010, 45,264 women had a total of 57,652 cycles, an increase of almost six per cent on the previous year.

This year clinics were set a target that no more than 15 per cent of their births be twins or triplets.

Tony Rutherford, chairman of the British Fertility Society, said the multiple pregnancy rate has dropped significantly as the number of single embryo transfers has increased from nine per cent to almost one in four now.

But he added: “There has been significant improvements but it is nowhere near enough to reach the 10 per cent multiple pregnancy rate target set by the HFEA in 2007.

“The targets are achievable, the philospohy behind it is absolutely correct and by doing so we will protect the health of mothers and their babies following IVF.”

Mr Rutherford said in Sweden the single embryo transfer rate was 70 per cent and the multiple pregnancy rate was five per cent.


Low vitamin D linked to Type 2 diabetes risk

Children with low vitamin D levels are more likely to be at risk of developing Type 2 diabetes, according to a study suggesting a deficiency could help trigger the disease.Low vitamin D linked to Type 2 diabetes riskResearchers found those with lower vitamin D levels were more likely to be obese and have higher degrees of insulin resistance, when the hormone becomes less effective at lowering blood sugar.

Dr Micah Olson, lead author of the study Diabetes & Metabolic Syndrome: Clinical Research & Reviews , published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, said: “Although our study cannot prove causation, it does suggest that low vitamin D levels may play a role in the development of Type 2 diabetes.”

He added: “Future studies are needed to determine the clinical significance of lower vitamin D levels in obese children, the amount and duration of treatment necessary to replenish vitamin D levels in these children and whether treatment with vitamin D can improve primary clinical endpoints such as insulin resistance.”

The skin helps manufacture vitamin D, but only when exposed to strong sunlight. In the winter and early spring the body’s reserves can drop to low levels, particularly if a person has had insufficient exposure in the summer months.

Vitamin D can also be derived from certain foods, such as oily fish, eggs and fortified breakfast cereals.

Therefore, lack of vitamin D could simply be a sign of a generally unhealthy lifestyle: not getting out for enough exercise in the fresh air, and not eating a good diet.

Children who sit in front of the television for most of the day, snacking on fatty foods, are therefore likely to have lower vitamin D levels and be overweight as well. The two factors might not be biologically related.

Nonetheless, Dr Iain Frame, director of the charity Diabetes UK, said the study “adds to growing evidence of a link between low levels of vitamin D and an increased risk of Type 2 diabetes.”

He went on: “However, as the authors note, the exact causes of vitamin D deficiency and its role in the development of Type 2 diabetes are still unclear.

“Diabetes UK is currently funding research at the University of Glasgow to help establish if people with Type 2 diabetes might benefit from vitamin D supplementation.

“Until we know more, it is not possible to recommend vitamin D supplements to reduce the risk of Type 2 diabetes and people should not see this as an easy fix.

“Maintaining a healthy weight by keeping to a healthy diet and undertaking regular physical activity is still the best way to reduce your risk of developing Type 2 diabetes.”

New 60 step plan for the NHS by Andrew Lansley

Andrew Lansley has called on the NHS to focus on “what really matters” as he prepares to announce plans to judge hospitals and doctors against 60 new goals that are designed to save more than 20,000 lives a year.New 60 step plan for the NHS by Andrew LansleyThe Health Secretary has unveiled a new system to assess success in the health service based on the quality of care patients receive – not merely the speed at which they are treated.

Comprehensive data on hospital death rates, the individual performance of GPs and surgeons and patients’ experiences under their care are to be published in an attempt to improve standards.

Mr Lansley has set out 60 benchmarks that will replace Labour’s system of targets and will be used to define success in the NHS.

These include a commitment to preventing unnecessary early deaths, a pledge to enhance the quality of life for people with long-term conditions and a drive to ensure that people have a positive experience when using the health service.

If the new standards are achieved, 24,000 early deaths a year could be prevented from cancer and other long-term conditions, Mr Lansley believes.

In addition, fewer people with long-term conditions including asthma and diabetes will be treated in hospitals, he will claim, while patients undergoing routine hip and knee operations will no longer be left in pain or unable to walk.

Access to NHS dentists will also be improved, he will say.

The Cabinet minister said the record on unnecessary early deaths varied across specialties as he urged the health service to focus on “what really matters” – the results achieved for patients and their experiences while being treated.

“If you look at the question of how many patients in this country die who could live if they got the best health care, it is literally over 10,000 patients a year if we were simply to get to a place which is better than the average across the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) countries.”

In an interview with The Daily Telegraph, Mr Lansley says his tenure as Health Secretary will have been a “failure” if the 60 new “outcome” targets do not improve by the next election. He pledges that the benchmarks will now “define what the NHS is setting out to achieve”.

“We have to clear the decks and be clear this is what we are focusing on,” he says. “People say in three and a half years’ time, in 2015, at the next election, how will we know whether you’ve succeeded or not? The answer is ‘have the outcomes improved?’

“It will be my failure if we haven’t improved them and the NHS should feel that it has not succeeded, that is what we are setting out to do.”

Next week, the Government will set out current performance for each of the 60 indicators. It will then set out national targets for improvement “by the time of the next election and beyond”.

The new NHS Commissioning Board and the Care Quality Commission will also intervene directly to address problems that are highlighted by the data.

In today’s interview, Mr Lansley says that the long-running row over NHS reform must end and the health service must concentrate on improving patient care.

“We’ve really got to get into the big picture, which is delivering improvements in the results we achieve for patients right across the board,” he said. “We know that we can do it.”

The benchmarks will be monitored partly through studying clinical data – for example, to ascertain whether mortality rates for cancer, liver and heart disease are improving — and partly through surveying patients to gauge whether they were satisfied by the standard of care they received and the speed of their recovery.

The Health Secretary says: “This is literally saying to patients ‘if you were in hospital, if you were being looked after by your general practitioner was the service and experience you had good or not?’ It’s not like some other kinds of medical model where you kind of treat people and they get better. This is different.

“This is really where you begin to kind of focus on the experience of care.”

For the first time, the views of bereaved relations and even children will be surveyed so that the quality of NHS care from early years until death can be assessed.

“We’ll be undertaking a consistent national survey of the bereaved relatives of people who received end of life care,” Mr Lansley said. “Asking them, after a suitable passage of time, what was their loved one’s experience of care and how well were they looked after towards the end of life.”


High blood sugar levels speeds up ageing

Living an unhealthy lifestyle could make you look older because high blood sugar causes the face to age more quickly, new research has found.High blood sugar levels speeds up ageingPeople whose blood sugar levels are higher than average look older than those with low levels, experts said.

Blood sugar, which can rise as a result of an unhealthy diet or lack of exercise, was already known to cause ill health but the study is believed to be the first to link high levels to appearance.

Researchers found that every additional millimole per litre increase in blood sugar, which in healthy people is usually between five and six mmol/l, adds five months of ageing to their facial features.

They measured the blood sugar of 602 people, while a group of 60 independent assessors studied two photographs of their faces to come up with a “perceived age” score.

Healthy people with low blood sugar typically looked a year younger than those with high readings, and a year-and-a-half younger than diabetics, the study published in the Age journal found.

The ageing could be caused by a build-up of sugar which sticks to collagen – a protein in the skin which keeps it supple – and is difficult for the body to remove.

Alternatively, the glucose could hamper insulin production which is believed to play a central role in ageing, researchers said.

David Gunn, who led the Unilever study, said: “The higher glucose people had, they started looking older. Diabetics looked older again, and they have had the worst exposure to high glucose levels.

“This adds extra evidence that there is another reason to have a healthy lifestyle – because it is going to affect your appearance as well as your health.”

Diana van Heemst, of Leiden University in the Netherlands, who contributed to the paper, said: “The results from this study further underscore how important regulation of blood glucose levels is for wellbeing and health in advanced middle age.

“The associated benefit of looking younger might provide an extra motivation to bring about healthy lifestyle changes in 50-to-70 year olds.”


Childhood cancers forcing parents into debt

Two thirds of parents who have children fighting cancer are being forced into debt due to the costs of caring for them, according to research.Childhood cancers forcing parents into debtThe charity CLIC Sargent found in it’s survey Childhood cancer drives two thirds of parents into debt families were struggling to meet the extra expenses of childcare, travel and accommodation.

Many such parents also take extensive unpaid leave, so the families have to get by on reduced incomes.

The survey of 245 parents found 66 per cent were having to borrow money to make ends meet, while 76 per cent said extra costs were having a major impact on family finances.

More than two in five (42 per cent) were borrowing on a credit card, while 20 per cent had taken out a loan.

More than one in 20 (6 per cent) had turned to high interest, short-term loans to cope with additional costs.

Of those in debt, 41 per cent had been forced to borrow more than £1,000 to fund extra costs while 27 per cent borrowed more than £2,000.

More than half (55 per cent) had taken unpaid leave – many more than three months – while 13 per cent said they felt they had been demoted as a result.

Cancer-related expenses every month amounted to more than £360 on average.

Lorraine Clifton, chief executive of CLIC Sargent, said: “Everyone is suffering in this economic climate but parents of children with cancer are amongst the hardest hit. The extra costs can be significant.

“It’s shocking to hear that some families felt driven to debt in order to get through financially. Unpaid leave from work, travel costs and care for siblings are some of the additional costs that families face once cancer treatment begins.

“CLIC Sargent is concerned that Government reforms will restrict families’ options to financial support through the benefits system.

“Which is why we want to work with the Government and other organisations to ensure young people and children with cancer, and their families, have the financial support they need.”