Data breaches rocket over the last few years

Data breaches in the UK have increased ten fold in the past five years- figures from the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) reveal.Data breaches rocket over the last few yearsIn local government the increase was a shocking 1,609% and within the NHS 935%.

More than 100 health records – almost half of them in NHS Grampian – went missing in Scotland in 2011.

The 104 files included personal details of children and sensitive health information, according to details in a Freedom of Information response.

The figures were issued after a Freedom of Information Act request by data company Imation Mobile Security.

But the ICO says the numbers show that organisations report many more breaches than before.

There were 821 instances in the UK in 2011-12, compared with 79 in 2007-08.

Telecoms is the only sector that showed a decrease in the number of information breaches – there were none in 2011-12 and only nine in the previous five years.

But the ICO said that the numbers demonstrated that organisations reported breaches much more now than before, because of increased awareness of the legal requirements on companies to keep people’s data secure and a fine of up to £500,000 on companies that lose information because of negligence.

The penalty policy was introduced in 2010.

In the 12 months up to July this year, the watchdog has collected £2 million in fines- three times more than the year before.

“Over the years we have provided practical support and guidance to organisations across the UK and are pleased that the health service and government sectors are now expected to report serious breaches, involving sensitive or large volumes of personal data, to our office,” the ICO said in a statement.

“We would urge other sectors to do the same by following our guidance on security breach management.”


Newborns facing unnecessary delays in treating infections

Some hospitals are causing unnecessary delays in treating newborn babies suffering from infections, the healthcare quango has said.Newborns facing unnecessary delays in treating infectionsThe National Institute for Curbing Expenditure (Nice) has published new guidance after finding variations in the treatment of babies with early onset neonatal infection.

It found delays at some hospitals in recognising and treating sick babies.

Early-onset neonatal infection – within 72 hours of birth – causes the death of one in four babies who are diagnosed, even when they are given antibiotics.

Nice’s recommendations urge medical staff to treat infected babies within an hour of diagnosis and use antibiotics appropriately to avoid the development of bacterial resistance to treatment.

Professor Mark Baker, director of Nice’s Centre for Clinical Practice at Nice , said: “Early-onset neonatal infection can be very serious and, at present, there is much variation in how it is managed, with sometimes unnecessary delays in recognising and treating sick babies.”

“Many babies are receiving antibiotics needlessly, and consequently there is concern that the effectiveness of antibiotics is being reduced because of the development of resistance to them.”

Early-onset neonatal infections, usually caused by organisms passed from mother to baby during birth, include group B Streptococcus (GBS), E.coli, Pseudomonas and Klebsiella.

Infections can develop suddenly and rapidly. Death rates are particularly high in premature babies and low birth weight babies, Nice said.

The infections may also cause babies to develop cortical lesions in the brain, and subsequently cause neuro-developmental delay.

NHS waiting times rise for first time in a year

The number of NHS patients waiting longer than 18 weeks to be seen at hospital has increased for the first time in a year amid concerns that cuts are hitting front-line services.NHS waiting times rise for first time in a yearIn June there were 155,439 people who had been waiting longer than 18 weeks to be seen in hospital after being referred by their GP, compared to 143,337 in May.

It is the first time there has been a month on month increase in the number of patients breaching the 18 week waiting time standard since July 2011.

The number waiting for more than a year also increased from 3,302 in May to 3,500 in June.

Officials said the ‘blip’ was due to the two extra bank holidays in June for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, however others raised concerns that financial constraints on the NHS were beginning to have an impact.

Patients have a right to be seen in hospital within 18 weeks under the NHS Constitution or can request to go private at the NHS’ expense.

David Stout, director of policy at the NHS Confederation, which represents most health service organisations, said: “NHS organisations have worked hard to make sure the vast majority of patients get their treatment within 18 weeks.

“This has been no mean feat, especially against the continued backdrop of massive financial pressures on the health service. We should give the NHS the credit it is due for this performance.  The latest figures do show a small decrease in the percentage of patients admitted within 18 weeks. While this should not be seen as the start of a decline in performance, it will be important to monitor waiting times closely as financial pressures start to bite in the NHS.”

“Managers and clinicians keep their organisation’s performance on referral to treatment times under continual scrutiny.

“In some organisations there is more to be done to ensure they meet the waiting times of the best, but we mustn’t lose sight of the fact that the average waiting time for treatment has fallen in the past five years from over 14 weeks to less than six weeks.

“These successes are the direct result of hard work by staff right across the NHS.”

A spokesman for the Department of Health said: “Average waiting times are low and stable. The NHS is meeting the standard that 92 per cent of patients still waiting to start treatment should have been waiting no more than 18 weeks.”

“The number of patients waiting longer than 18 weeks before starting treatment is over 50,000 lower than in May 2010.

“It is not unusual to see seasonal fluctuations in the number of patients treated. The extra bank holidays in June 2012 meant fewer working days and on one of these, the BMA took industrial action causing a number of treatments and operations to be delayed or rescheduled.

“However, we are clear that the NHS should not keep people waiting longer than 18 weeks, and if this is the case, that they are treated as soon as possible.”

Home care cap would still leave elderly with huge bills

Middle class families will still have to pay up to 90 per cent of the cost of having a relation in a nursing home under plans to overhaul care backed by David Cameron, a leading Tory MP claims.Home care cap would still leave elderly with huge billsJohn Redwood broke ranks with his party leader to attack proposals by the economist Andrew Dilnot to cap the cost of care. He made his comments as it emerged that Mr Cameron has given his full support to the plans.

In a landmark report published last year Mr Dilnot called for a new system of funding which would mean that no one would have to pay more than around £35,000 for care in their lifetime.

But in a recent paper Mr Redwood questions whether it is “morally right” to use taxpayers’ money to fund a cap, claiming it would only serve to benefit well off families who want to protect their inheritance.

He also argues that the £35,000 cap is misleading and would not provide the level of protection which people think it would.

In a paper for the think-tank the Centre for Policy Studies, he insists that people could still face huge bills for care because much of the money they spend would not count towards the cap.

The Dilnot report makes clear the cap would only apply to care costs- so excluding the bills families would pay for their loved one’s accommodation. But it would also depend on assessments made by local councils of how much someone’s care should cost.

If people want to go to a care home which charges more than the amount the council approves, they would have to make up the difference themselves – as is the case at present.

However, under the Dilnot proposals, the extra money would not count towards the cap. In theory, it means that people could spend far more than £35,000 before the cap takes effect.

In some parts of the country, particularly southern England, many care homes already charge more than the local council is prepared to pay, meaning that even residents who get their fees paid by the state still have to top it up.

Using a model designed by Partnership, an insurer, Mr Redwood argues that families could end up paying 90 per cent of the costs themselves over four years, even under a capped system.

At present councils pay around £461 a week, including accommodation, for people who qualify for residential care. But in southern England weekly fees average at £817 a week, or £42,500 a year, Mr Redwood says.

He calculates that only £271 a week paid by the resident would count toward the cap.

That would mean it would take two and a half years before they are judged to have spent £35,000, by which time they would have racked up bills of £105,500.

Even then the resident would only get their care costs paid up to the level set by the council, he adds. Over four years the resident would still have had to pay £149,000 even with a cap, compared with £170,000 without a cap.

“It is a cap but it is not the size of cap people thought it was,” said Mr Redwood.

“I don’t feel I’m a heretic, I just feel it is important that we have an informed debate.  I think a lot of people who support Dilnot haven’t actually read the proposals and don’t understand the location of the cap.”

In his paper Mr Redwood argues that families should be prepared to use the value of loved-ones’ homes to fund their care and claims that most people do not actually need to inherit their parents’ home.

“The only real reason the children want to inherit is they would like to have more money,” he says.  “That is an understandable wish, but not necessarily one that should be fulfilled at the expense of the taxpayer.”

Michelle Mitchell, director of Age UK, said: “Social care is a highly complicated issue and so trying to find a solution which scores 10 out of 10 for everyone involved is probably impossible.


Hospitals fail to check for potentially fatal conditions

Millions of people are missing out on health checks for potentially fatal conditions, an investigation has revealed, because cash-strapped hospitals deem them to be a low priority.Hospitals fail to check for potentially fatal conditionsAs many as nine million patients may be missing out on checks designed to spot potentially fatal conditions such as heart disease and diabetes, unless current provision and uptake improve, according to the GP magazine investigation.

GP magazine sent Freedom of Information requests to all 151 primary care trusts (PCTs) in England, of which 118 responded.

The figures obtained show that, in 2011-12, 1.7 million checks were offered to patients: 14% of all those eligible for the programme. Around 920,000 checks were actually carried out. This is an increase on 2010-11 when 1.1 million checks were offered and 645,000 were carried out.

Around two thirds (64%) of PCTs did not provide enough NHS health checks to meet the Government’s 20% aspirational target in 2011-12, GP magazine said.

One fifth (21%) of PCTs admitted they will fail to meet the compulsory target in 2012-13, despite being given three years to prepare, the figures show.

Three PCTs did not provide a single check in 2011-12 and another provided just four checks.

A spokeswoman for NHS Cornwall and Isles of Scilly, which did not provide any checks in 2011-12, told GP magazine that the programme is not prioritised, “owing to other pressures”.

Nationally, patient uptake is falling, with only 54% attending a check in 2011-12, down from 60% in 2010-11. Just 11% of patients in NHS Portsmouth turned up for their check.

Despite government funding, six PCTs spent nothing on their programmes in 2011-12.

The figures also reveal a geographical disparity in funding for checks. In 2012-13, funding from PCTs varies from £1.3m in NHS West Sussex to just £28,452 in NHS Southampton City, GP magazine said.

Dr Richard Vautrey, deputy chairman of the British Medical Association’s GP committee, said: “The programme is done in such an ad hoc way, without central guidance. That’s why it is so patchy in uptake and, probably, effectiveness.

“It would have been far better to have greater national standards for the scheme, and national rates of payment for the scheme. This would have led to better cost and clinical effectiveness.”

Jules Payne, chief executive of the Heart UK charity, said: “It’s encouraging that the number of health checks conducted has increased on the previous year. However, these findings aren’t all good news. Some PCTs have indicated that they will deliver far fewer health checks than they should be, and there is enormous variance in PCT spending on health checks.

“This has all the classic ingredients of health inequalities and a postcode lottery for accessing services.”

Baroness Barbara Young, chief executive of the Diabetes UK charity, said public awareness needs to be raised.

“Something like this (the health checks) is pretty fundamental to tackling the rising tide of diabetes,” she said.

“I think the problem with the geographical disparity is that it has not actually been mandatory, it has been optional. Some PCTs have taken it very seriously, some haven’t.  The other missing link in this is public awareness. It is hugely patchy.”

Natasha Stewart, senior cardiac nurse at the British Heart Foundation, said the lack of provision or uptake means many people are unaware that they have cardiovascular disease.

“The results of this survey reflect concerns that people aren’t being offered the check, or they are not taking the NHS up on their offer,” she said.

“This means there are a lot of people who are unaware they are living with cardiovascular diseases, or the risk factors which lead to them. Local authorities need to take health checks out into the community, rather than expecting the community to come to them.”


Major cosmetic surgery review launched

Britain’s cosmetic surgery industry faces tough new regulations over fears that patients are being misled over the safety of procedures.Major cosmetic surgery review launchedThe Government has launched a review into cosmetic surgery following the PIP breast implant scandal

Minimum training requirements for surgeons and psychological screening to protect vulnerable patients are expected to be introduced after an inquiry into the multi-million pound business.

Sir Bruce Keogh, the NHS medical director, will make recommendations to the Government after heading an inquiry into concerns raised about cosmetic surgery after breast implants made by the French company Poly Implant Prothese were found to contain industrial silicone.

Sir Bruce said too many people “do not realise how serious cosmetic surgery is”.

Approximately 47,000 women in Britain were given PIP breast implants. By June, almost 750 had undergone removal surgery on the NHS at an estimated cost of £3 million, with many others undergoing the procedure privately.

Among measures expected to be introduced is a register for all procedures from breast implants to hip replacements, tighter regulation of anti-ageing dermal fillers and minimum training requirements for surgeons.

In an interview with The Times, Sir Bruce said he wanted to clean up the “grubby areas” of cosmetic surgery. “I think that there are some very good parts of the cosmetic intervention and surgery industry but there are also some pretty grubby areas.

“There are some pretty hard sales techniques out there at the moment. For example, there are some surgical interventions being offered where if you decide to have it quickly you get a discount. I think that’s scandalous.”

Sir Bruce said the breast implant scare had been a “catalyst” for a review of the industry. An inquiry concluded they did not cause a long-term health threat.

The panel — including Catherine Kydd, a PIP campaigner, Andrew Vallance-Owen, a former medical director of Bupa and Trish Halpin, the editor of Marie Claire magazine — will make recommendations to the Government in March.

Sir Bruce said: “Many questions have been raised, particularly around the regulation of clinics, whether all practitioners are adequately qualified, how well people are advised when money is changing hands, aggressive marketing techniques, and what protection is available when things go wrong.”

The British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons has welcomed the review, saying it would also advocate a compulsory national register for breast implants and a strict code of advertising to protect vulnerable patients who “seek cosmetic surgery for psychological reasons”.

Labour planned profit making NHS exports two years ago

Labour began selling NHS services overseas two years ago despite today condemning the Coalition’s plans to set up profit making hospitals abroad, official documents show.Labour planned profit making NHS exports two years agoThe labour party is facing accusations of hypocrisy after saying the Government”s decision to export NHS expertise is an example of David Cameron’s “rampant commercialisation”.

Andy Burnham, Labour’s shadow health secretary, called on the Prime Minister to “get his priorities right” and concentrate on the NHS at home, rather than chasing profit abroad.

However, it has now emerged that Gordon Brown’s government set up a profit-making arm called NHS Global to “maximise its international potential… and bring benefits back to the UK taxpayer”.

Its purpose was to “market valuable assets across the system overseas, ranging from innovative products and professional expertise to provision of NHS services and treatments”.

Anne Milton, the public health minister, accused Labour of “campaigning against its own policy”

“Andy Burnham has jumped on every passing bandwagon – now he is attacking the ability of hospital doctors to raise money for NHS patients,” she said. “It is clear that Labour will stop at nothing to score a political point, even if it means damaging patients.”

The Coalition plans to set up a new body called Healthcare UK to capitalise on the good name of the NHS, which was promoted all over the world during the Olympic opening ceremony.

It will encourage hospitals to set up profit-making branches abroad to raise funds for patients at home and raise the international profile of the health service.

Critics said the Government should be concentrating on the huge challenges facing the NHS at home, rather than abroad.

David Stout, deputy chief executive of the NHS Confederation, insisted the plan would not “divert attention away from local health services”.

It is “absolutely right” to charge for NHS services abroad and bring back the profit to help improve patient care in Britain, he said.

Mr Stout said the idea of setting up foreign branches of well-known hospitals, such as Great Ormond Street and the Royal Marsden, is a huge opportunity as long as services in the UK are not harmed.

He added: “I don’t think this is distorting what we offer UK citizens, this is about exploiting the brand internationally.”

He said any profits would be “marginal” in the scheme of the NHS’s £100 billion budget but the health service should do everything it can to “help UK Plc”.

Officials from the Department of Health and UK Trade and Industry will launch the joint scheme this autumn, which will aim to build links between hospitals wishing to expand and foreign governments which want access to British health services.

The proposal was reportedly inspired by hospitals in America, including Baltimore’s John Hopkins, opening similar branches abroad.


Scottish drink and drug deaths at record levels

Dring and drug related deaths in Scotland have reached record levels.Scottish drink and drug deaths at record levelsThere were 584 recorded deaths in 2011 – up 99 on the previous year and a 76% increase on 2001.

Heroin substitute methadone was linked to 47% of deaths, with heroin and morphine accounting for a third.

Justice Minister Roseanna Cunningham said the government was committed to helping serious addicts recover.

But opposition parties said the proportion of deaths related to methadone, which is prescribed to help heroin users kick their habit, showed ministers had to rethink their policy.

According to the figures:

  • Heroin and/or morphine was linked to 206 deaths (35%)
  • Methadone was linked to 275 deaths (47%)
  • Benzodiazepines, like diazepam, were linked to 185 deaths (32%)
  • Alcohol was linked to 129 deaths (22%)
  • Cocaine, ecstasy and amphetamines were liked to 36, eight and 24 deaths respectively

There have been increases in deaths in six of the past 10 years.

A total of 36% of deaths were among 35 to 44-year-olds, with people aged 24 to 34 involved in 32% of cases.

Men accounted for 73%, but the increase in the number of drug-related deaths was greater for women – at 117%.

Ms Cunningham, Scotland’s minister for community safety, said £28.6 million was being invested in drug treatment over 2012-13, while naloxone kits, which help counteract the effects of opiate drug overdoses, were being handed out across Scotland.

She said: “Every one of these deaths is a tragedy and I extend my sympathies to the family members, friends and everyone connected.”

Biba Brand, of the Scottish Drugs Forum, said families seeking help for drug problems were now in their third generation.

“Drug-dependency is a chronic, relapsing condition for which there is no single solution and no quick or easy answer,” she said.

Labour justice spokesman Lewis Macdonald said: “With a large proportion of deaths involving methadone, it would appear that the approach being taken to treatment isn’t working properly and fails to prevent addicts combining drugs into lethal cocktails.  It isn’t good enough for the SNP to say they are spending more money on the same approach.”

Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson MSP added: “This appalling loss of life illustrates the human disaster that is the methadone programme.

“It would appear hundreds of families are being blighted by what is little more than legalised drug-taking on an industrial scale.”

Elsewhere, the figures showed a total of 33% of deaths happened in the Greater Glasgow and Clyde NHS Board area, with the proportion at 13% in Lothian.


Calorie burning by office workers and hunter gatherers are the same

Office workers burn as many calories as their hunter gatherer forebears meaning the obesity epidemic cannot be blamed on our lack of exercise research suggests.Calorie burning by office workers and hunter gatherers are the sameResearchers have found that western men and women used strikingly similar amounts of energy each day compared with peers from a traditional community from the open savannah of Tanzania.

Despite trekking great distances each day to forage and hunt for game, results showed that the members of the Hadza tribe burned no more calories each day than a group of Americans and Europeans.

Experts have long assumed that our hunter gatherer ancestors would have used up more energy than we do today, indicating that a lack of exercise could be behind the current obesity epidemic.

But the study Hunter-Gatherer Energetics and Human Obesity published in the PLoS ONE journal – the first to directly measure how much energy hunter-gatherers use – suggests that the rate at which humans use up calories remains relatively constant regardless of lifestyle.

Herman Pontzer, of Hunter College in New York, who led the study with colleagues from Stanford and Arizona universities, said: “The vast majority of what we spend our calories on is things you will never see like keeping our organs and immune system going. Physical activity is just the tip of the iceberg.

“If you spend a bit more energy on something like physical activity, you spend a bit less on something else but you do not notice it. This study shows that you can have a very different lifestyle, but energy use all adds up tot he same level no matter what.”

It follows that the modern obesity problem is more likely down to our higher consumption of food than our ancestors, rather than our lower rates of physical activity, he added.

“People argue about why it is that westerners are getting so fat, and at the end of the day it has to be the fact that we are taking in more energy from food than we are burning – but is the big problem that we are taking in too many calories, or that we are not burning enough?

“But even if we had a lifestyle like our ancestors did …we would not burn more calories than we do today. That has not changed a lot, but over the last 50 years we are eating a lot more than we need to be, so that gets to the heart of this issue.”

Despite its apparent limited impact on obesity, Pontzer emphasised that exercise has a wide variety of physical benefits and is essential for keeping the body healthy.

The fact that the Hadza spend more of their daily energy output on physical exercise could be behind the good health of older tribe members, who are much more resistant to chronic illnesses such as heart disease than westerners, he said.

“We are not saying that physical activity is not important for health – clearly it is – but it does not appear to be the main cause of obesity.”


Thousands wait more than four hours to be seen in A&E

The number of patients left to wait up to 12 hours for an emergency hospital bed rose by almost a third in the first six months of the year, according to official figures.Thousands wait more than four hours to be seen in A&EAlmost 67,000 patients admitted to A&E departments could not be seen for between four and 12 hours amid concerns thousands had to wait in corridors or on trolleys.

Under Department of Health targets, hospitals should admit or discharge 95 per cent of A&E patients within four hours.

But in the worst-performing trust – Surrey and Sussex Healthcare – more than one in five had to wait more than four hours for a bed.

Experts said the figures showed the financial pressures hospitals are currently facing.

Mike Clancy, president of the College of Emergency Medicine, said: “It’s a high pressure system and small changes in demand make a big change in waiting. We are asking wards to handle more patients faster.”

Meanwhile, the number of patients waiting more than 12 hours for treatment at A&E departments in Scotland has more than doubled since 2008, with targets missed in the cases of 882 people.

Professor Matthew Cooke, national clinical director for urgent and emergency care at the Department of Health, said: “This should not be referred to as waiting time as it is time that includes assessment and treatment.

“Once a decision to admit a patient to a ward from A&E is taken, they should be transferred as quickly as possible so that the best treatment for their condition can be given in the most appropriate setting.”

“This is why we gave hospitals greater flexibility in allowing more patients who need to remain in A&E longer for vital tests, observation or treatment. For patients admitted to A&E via an ambulance, the average wait to be seen by a doctor is only 49 minutes.”

“Modern A&E departments provide a more comprehensive service, with specialist expertise, than has historically been the case. This would mean some patients get the best treatment for them in the A&E department and so would spend longer there. This does not mean that they are still waiting.”