Norovirus winter vomiting bug claims a million people

The number of sufferers of the winter vomiting bug Norovirus in England and Wales have topped a million the latest figures from the Health Protection Agency suggest.Norovirus winter vomiting bug claims a million peopleIt said there were 3,538 lab-confirmed cases up to 16 December – but that for each another 288 go unreported.

The figure is 83% higher than at this stage last year – but has not increased greatly since last week.

Norovirus is a highly contagious short term illness and causes severe vomiting and diarrhoea.

It can be spread through contact with contaminated surfaces or objects, by contact with an infected person, or by the consumption of contaminated food or water.

The HPA’s figures show that – so far this year – there are 83% more cases than there were at the same point in 2011 when there had been 1,934 norovirus cases reported.

In addition, there were 70 hospital outbreaks in the two weeks up to December 23rd, compared with 61 in the previous fortnight.

It could be there is simply an earlier peak in cases – or that figures will be higher overall this year.

The HPA stresses norovirus is unpredictable, and no two years are the same.

The norovirus “year” – the date from which experts start to count cases – begins in July and runs to the following June.

Laboratory confirmed reports represent a small proportion of the actual number of cases because most people do not see a doctor – and therefore their case is not recorded.

A Department of Health spokeswoman said: “The NHS is well prepared for the winter. No A&Es have had to close so far this winter and we are providing additional funding to the NHS to help it cope with the added pressure that the winter brings.

“Our weekly published figures show the number of beds closed across the NHS due to norovirus symptoms is around 2.4%. This compares to 2.9% of beds that were closed during the peak of norovirus cases last winter.”

Top Christmas health risks

With the festive break on us  here, in no particular order, is my personal selection of the top Christmas health risks.Top Christmas health risks High lights- low lights

It may look festive but dragging a tree – plastic or wooden – into your living room and covering it with electric lights and tiny glass baubles is asking for trouble!

According to the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) around 1,000 people visit A&E after calamities with their tree and 350 following problems with Christmas lights. How many years have you been using those lights? Consider a new set, and remember to turn them off at night.

 Up in smoke

Candles cause more than 1,000 house fires and several deaths every year. Fairy lights, decorations and even Christmas cards are also a fire hazard. You are more 50% more likely to die in a house fire at Christmas than any other time. Make sure you don’t take the battery out of your smoke alarm to supply a new toy.

But remember the majority of house fires start in the kitchen.

Tread with care

There are more accidental falls and traffic accidents in December with bad weather and short daylight hours both playing a part.

Snow and ice can be a lethal opponent to even the fittest individual and the best drivers. Last winter there were 76 deaths due to exposure to the cold, 25 fatalities caused by falling on ice or snow and one involving ice skates.

Over eating

Let’s face it most of us will eat too much over Christmas. That’s not a problem if it’s a one-off, but two out of three adults are overweight or obese.

The British Heart Foundation says Christmas lunch can provide more calories than are needed in an entire day and has advice on how to reduce fat and calorie consumption, such as removing skin from turkey and eating slowly.


Whereas eating too much will simply harm your own waistline, excess alcohol can ruin the lives of others too.

Assaults – many fuelled by alcohol – and drink driving both rise over Christmas and New Year. There is also a rise in alcohol poisoning.

Seasonal ailments

There are always more deaths in winter than other times of year, with causes such as respiratory and circulatory diseases, and infections like flu.

There are five times as many emergency admissions for pneumonia in December compared to August and cold weather also triggers a rise in asthma problems .

Colds, sore throats and painful joints are all more prevalent in winter. There are things you can do to minimise some risks such as have a flu jab, stay warm and wash your hands regularly.

Lonely this Christmas

There’s only one thing worse than being surrounded by your relatives at Christmas and that’s not being surrounded by them.

Someone calls Samaritans every six seconds but the charity says the idea that Christmas is the busiest time of year is something of a myth.

Research suggests there is a fall in suicides during the Christmas period followed by an increase just after the New Year.

Of course loneliness is just one of many problems people face in the coming weeks.

Some will be confronted by a growing mountain of debt early in the New Year as Christmas bills start to pour in. Then there is marital breakdown – more people consider ending their relationship in January than at any other time.

New cancer treatment uses Trojan Horse strategy

A new experimental “Trojan horse” cancer threatmenty has completely eliminated prostate cancer in experiments on mice, according to UK researchers.New cancer treatment uses Trojan Horse strategyThe team hid cancer killing viruses inside the immune system in order to sneak them into a tumour.

Once inside, a study in the journal Cancer Research showed, tens of thousands of viruses were released to kill the cancerous cells. Experts labelled the study “exciting,” but human tests are still needed.

Using viruses to destroy rapidly growing tumours is an emerging field in cancer therapy, however one of the challenges is getting the viruses deep inside the tumour where they can do the damage.

After chemotherapy or radiotherapy is used to treat cancer, there is damage to the tissue. This causes a surge in white blood cells, which swamp the area to help repair the damage.

“We’re surfing that wave to get as many white blood cells to deliver tumour busting viruses into the heart of a tumour,” said Prof Claire Lewis.

Her team takes blood samples and extract macrophages, a part of the immune system which normally attacks foreign invaders. These are mixed with a virus which, just like HIV, avoids being attacked and instead becomes a passenger in the white blood cell.

In the study, the mice were injected with the white blood cells two days after a course of chemotherapy ended.

At this stage each white blood cell contained just a couple of viruses. However, once the macrophages enter the tumour the virus can replicate. After about 12 hours the white blood cells burst and eject up to 10,000 viruses each – which go on to infect, and kill, the cancerous cells.

At the end of the 40 day study, all the mice who were given the Trojan treatment were still alive and had no signs of tumours. By comparison, mice given other treatments died and their cancer had spread.

Prof Lewis said: “It completely eradicates the tumour and stops it growing back.”  She said it was a “ground-breaking” concept, but cautioned that many remarkable advances in treating mice failed to have any effect in people.  She hopes to begin human trials next year.

Dr Kate Holmes, head of research at Prostate Cancer UK, said: “It demonstrates that this innovative method of delivering a tumour-killing virus direct to the cancer site is successful at reducing the development of advanced prostate tumours in mice which have been treated with chemotherapy and radiotherapy.

“If this treatment goes on to be successful in human trials, it could mark substantial progress in finding better treatments for men with prostate cancer which has spread to the bone.”

Hospitals closed by winter vomiting bug Norovirus

Hospitals around the UK have been closing wards to visitors in the hope of preventing the spread of the winter vomiting bug, norovirus.Hospitals closed by winter vomiting bug NorovirusBirmingham’s City Hospital, Maidstone Hospital in Kent, and George Eliot Hospital in Nuneaton, Warwickshire, all have patients with the infection.

The Health Protection Agency has said a 72% rise in cases was unexplained.

In its latest weekly report, it said there had been 2,630 confirmed laboratory reports of norovirus – up from 1,533 cases reported in the same period last season.

“There are no indications as to why activity is higher this year,” it said.

Experts at the HPA stress that it is normal to see a series of sharp rises and falls in norovirus activity between October and April, with the bulk of cases happening between January and March.

The infection is highly contagious, and involves a sudden onset of vomiting and diarrhoea, with possible temperature, headache and stomach cramps. The illness usually lasts one or two days and there are no long term effects.

The HPA said that lab reports represent only a small proportion of the actual amount of norovirus activity, as most infected people do not go to a doctor for treatment.

“It has been estimated that for every confirmed case there are around 288 unreported cases,” the HPA said.

The HPA advices infected people not to visit friends or relatives in hospitals or residential care homes while ill, to avoid spreading the virus

At City Hospital in Birmingham four wards were closed to visitors as a precautionary measure to stop the spread ahead of Christmas. Officials hoped to re-open within a week.

In Kent, three wards at Maidstone Hospital were closed to new admissions and family and friends of patients have been told to stay away.

Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells NHS Trust said 27 patients had norovirus.

Four wards have also been closed at The Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother Hospital (QEQM) in Margate because of the bug.

NHS Tayside reopened two wards on Friday that were closed to new admissions following an outbreak of norovirus. The wards were at Crieff Community Hospital and Dundee’s Royal Victoria Hospital.

In Wales, visitors have been urged to stay away from five hospitals – Ysbyty Gwynedd, Dolgellau, Colwyn Bay, Glan Clwyd and Wrexham Maelor – to prevent the spread of the infection.

Fear of being sued is ruining modern medicine

Doctors are too scared to deviate from evidence based medicine and innovation is being stifled claims Lord Saatchi.Fear of being sued is ruining modern medicineLord Saatchi was spurred into launching a medical Bill after his wife Josephine Hart died of ovarian cancer

The mantra that young, fledgling doctors repeat to themselves endlessly is “evidence based practice”. On the face of it, this seems sensible. Of course doctors should only prescribe or recommend treatments for which there is a clear, empirical evidence base.

Modern medicine is founded on the principles of scientific inquiry; a hypothesis is put forward, tested and proved or disproved. But, as any doctor will tell you, in real life things are a lot messier than that, and nowhere more so than in cancer management.

While evidence based practice is noble in theory, in reality, it’s simply not always realistic, given the complex nature of cancer when its multiple variables, contributing factors and idiosyncrasies are taken into account. This is what makes medicine as much an art as a science.

But worryingly, while doctors know that evidence-based medicine is not always the best choice for treating their patients, they have, in recent years, become increasingly scared of deviating from the standard treatments available to them, even if these don’t appear to be working.

However Lord Maurice Saatchi, the advertising guru who sits in the House of Lords, has launched his Medical Innovation Bill, with the specific aim of changing the current culture within medicine that makes doctors fearful of the new and untested.

It’s a tragic indictment of modern medicine that too often innovation is jettisoned in favour of the status quo – not because it’s in the patient’s best interest, but because of the fear of being sued.

This defensive medicine is at the heart of so much clinical practice now. Several factors have coalesced to create an environment whereby evidence-based medicine is something to hide behind, rather than simply a gold standard to inform decision making.

The seeds of this defensiveness were sown in the medical profession’s consciousness following the fall-out from the Harold Shipman case. One of the unintended consequences of the regulation that came in as a result was that, suddenly, doctors and what they did for their patients was under incredible scrutiny.

It was no longer assumed that the doctor would, de facto, have the patient’s best interests at heart. The authorities became increasingly suspicious of doctors and what they got up to behind the closed doors of their surgeries. A culture of fear crept into the medical profession. This was against the backdrop of the insidious creep of the compensation culture and the rise of the no-win no-fee lawyer.

Also, as hospitals have become run increasingly like businesses, so a new ruling class has emerged from within health care – the managers.

They tend to be wary of any innovation or deviation from protocol that might expose the hospital to litigation risk. With often little or no experience of health care at the coalface, they struggle to grasp the speed, daring and courage needed for medical innovation.

So they hide behind protocols and policies and mete out punitive consequences for any clinician who deviates from them. Protocols have solidified into monolithic rules – not to help patients but so they could be waved across a courtroom to defend the hospital against complaints.

The current climate has resulted in a loss of professional autonomy and transmogrified doctors into tick-box automatons, no longer guided by guidelines but strangled and suffocated by them.

The drafting of the Bill, is designed to safely advance the freedom of doctors to innovate and strive for advancement, rather than simply accept the status quo because it means that no one can sue them. This doesn’t mean that doctors will have free rein to experiment on a patient. They are still bound by professional guidance and their duty of care still remains to their patient.

But what it does mean is that, in cases where the evidence is shaky or wanting, or is not yet clear, the Bill sets out a code by which doctors can try alternatives. In this way, it actually offers the patient more security than they have at present because it provides, for the first time, a robust legal framework to encourage responsible innovation in diagnosis and treatment.

One in three of us will get cancer. If the survival rates are going to improve, doctors must be free to innovate, and this is what Lord Saatchi’s Bill does. I hope our politicians can see this, too.


Cameron rejects drugs review

David Cameron has rejected a royal commission review to consider decriminalising illegal drugs.Cameron rejects drugs reviewIn response to the report by the home affairs select committee, David Cameron said the current policy was working in Britain.

The committee highlighted Portugal’s approach, where people found with drugs are not always prosecuted.  It also asked ministers to monitor cannabis legalisation elsewhere.

“Drugs use is coming down, the emphasis on treatment is absolutely right, and we need to continue with that to make sure we can really make a difference, ” Mr Cameron said.

“Also, we need to do more to keep drugs out of our prisons.  These are the government’s priorities and I think we should continue with that rather than have some very, very long-term royal commission.”

A royal commission is a public inquiry created by the head of state into a defined subject and overseen by a commissioner who has quasi-judicial powers.

However, there is concern over the growth and prevalence of “legal highs”, some of which are banned, amid a recorded rise in deaths linked to their use.

The committee stopped short of supporting a relaxation of legal sanctions for drug use, as suggested by experts at the UK Drug Policy Commission in October, but it does call on ministers to look in detail at the idea.

In its wide ranging report, the cross-party home affairs committee said MPs had visited Portugal as part of attempts to understand different systems of decriminalisation which were being used around the world to manage the harm of drugs, rather than just hand out penalties for their use.

Portugal has not legalised drugs but it has a system of not imposing criminal penalties on drug users who enter into special programmes designed to end their habits.

“We were impressed by what we saw of the Portuguese depenalised system,” said the MPs. “It had clearly reduced public concern about drug use in that country and was supported by all political parties and the police.  The current political debate in Portugal is about how treatment is funded… not about depenalisation itself.”

“Although it is not certain that the Portuguese experience could be replicated in the UK, given societal differences, we believe this is a model that merits significantly closer consideration.”

The committee urged ministers to monitor the effect of plans for cannabis legalisation in the US states of Colorado and Washington and in Uruguay,

The MPs said that, although drug use was falling, the impact of their use still cost billions and there were questions over whether the international strategy was working.

They said the time was right for a “fundamental review of all UK drugs policy in the international context” and recommended a royal commission be set up with an end-date of 2015.

Health Direct has for a long time noted the costly failure that is the current policy on drugs. On August 02, 2006 in Risks of taking drugs compared- Scientific review of dangers of drugtaking- Drugs, the real deal we reproduced the first ranking based upon scientific evidence of harm to both individuals and society.

It was devised by government advisers – then ignored by ministers because of its controversial findings. The analysis was carried out by David Nutt, the then senior member of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, and Colin Blakemore, the chief executive of the Medical Research Council.

Third of patients in A and E wait more than four hours

A survey by the healthcare regulator found waiting times are getting worse in several key areas in England’s Accident and Emergency (A and E) departments.Third of patients in A and E wait more than four hoursOne third of patients said they were in A&E for longer than four hours in total, up from a less than a quarter in 2004, and a third of patients also said they had to wait more than half an hour to be seen by a doctor or nurse, also up from a quarter in 2004.

Patients arriving by ambulance also faced waits with nearly one in four having to stay with the ambulance crew for more than 15 minutes for A&E staff to become available to take over their care, and one in 20 had to wait more than an hour.

The survey of 46,000 patients who have been treated in A&Es in England was conducted by the Care Quality Commission.

The findings do not reflect official waiting time data from the Department of Health which suggests 95 per cent of patients are dealt with inside four hours, meeting the overall target.

Health Minister Lord Howe said: “Everyone should be seen quickly when they arrive at hospital, even more so when they arrive in an ambulance. It is unacceptable for patients to be left waiting in ambulances outside hospitals.

“The NHS needs to ensure it has proper plans in place to deal with high demand and we are doing everything we can to support the service in treating patients as swiftly as it can.”

The research, conducted across 147 NHS trusts with major accident and emergency departments, also found that 59 per cent of people were not told how long they would have to wait to be examined, compared with 56 per cent in 2004.

Almost half of patients who were prescribed medicines said they were not warned about possible side effects.

However, most people said they still had confidence and trust in the health professionals who treated them.

Perceptions of the cleanliness of A&E units have also substantially improved from previous surveys, the CQC said.

The national score for patient satisfaction with A&E services dropped slightly from 75.7 in 2008 to 75.4 in 2012.

The scores dropped in three of the five main areas measured, including access and waiting; safe high quality coordinated care and building relationships.

There was only an improvement in one area, cleanliness, which rose from 81.4 in 2008 to 82.2 in 2012.

David Behan, CQC chief executive, said: “The important issue is that people who need to be treated urgently do not have to wait. It is disappointing therefore that people have said they have to wait longer to be treated than four years ago.

“People should be seen, diagnosed, treated and admitted or discharged as quickly as possible and this is an issue that trusts need to urgently tackle.

“It is however encouraging to see people’s perceptions of trust in clinicians and cleanliness continuing to be high and more people than ever saying that they have enough privacy when discussing conditions with receptionists.”

Office party hangovers cost British business £259 million

British workers who overdo it at their Christmas party cost the economy tens of millions of pounds in lost man hours a survey has calculated.Office party hangovers cost British business £259 millionResearchers found that one in four workers will work fewer than four hours the day after being inflicted with “hangovers” following their end of year celebrations.

The research, concluded that the decline in productivity levels cost businesses almost £259 million throughout the annual party season.

It found that up to a third of workers arrived at work having drunken too much alcohol at their Christmas party- with nearly a fifth arriving late or calling in sick.

The survey, of 1500 people, found one in 10 workers admitted “doing something they regretted” at their staff party. Almost two in three employees also admitted they drank too much during festivities.

Among the top “faux pas” included “ranting” about colleagues, having sex with, or sharing a “cheeky kiss” with senior members of staff and “spreading gossip” about colleagues.

The survey, commissioned by, the online hotel and travel company, found employees in Glasgow, Cardiff and Leeds were the “most likely to be hungover at work”, the day after their Christmas Party.

Meanwhile researchers concluded that “workers in Liverpool, Belfast and Newcastle were most likely to kiss a senior colleague”.

Most parties are held at restaurants and bars.