Luxury car makers build bigger cars for fat drivers

Luxury car makers are building bigger cars as a result of drivers and passengers becoming more overweight.Luxury car makers build bigger cars for fat driversTypical family cars have become more than a foot wider and almost double the weight over the past 50 years as manufacturers struggle with the world’s obesity crisis.

Consequently some luxury manufacturers have begun road testing the next generation of larger sized vehicles.

In plans dubbed “plump my ride” – in a play of words from the television show Pimp My Ride – BMW has recruited 800 volunteers, ranging from the slim to the obese, for a study to gauge how obesity affects mobility while driving.

The unnamed volunteers were put through a series of tests designed in part to examine factors such as getting in and out of cars or looking over their shoulder while reversing.

“People are getting more obese and we want to find out how that limits their range of motion and how our vehicles can adapt to the changing needs of our customers,” Ralf Kaiser, a member of BMW’s ergonomics team, told the Sunday Times.

“We know that a lot of overweight and obese people have problems in daily life, and in the car this starts with getting in and getting out.  In general, these aren’t sporty people. We already have things like the parking distance control, which shows obstacles on a screen when you are reversing.”

He added: “For someone who can find it difficult to turn 140 degrees to look behind them, they can now just look at the screen.  The study will mean we can look at things more scientifically and build a car that at least 95 per cent of people can use.”

Mercedes has unveiled plans to strengthen grab handles above its doors, in part to help heavier passengers support themselves.

Porsche, meanwhile, is installing “electrically-powered steering columns” on top-of-the-range models that rise when the engine is switched off.

Over the past decade, Honda has widened its seats by up to 2 inches to accommodate larger bottoms while its new range of vehicles will also have buttons that will allow for so called “sausage fingers”.

Other manufacturers are installing reversing aids and blind spot detectors as standard.

According to the latest figures a Ford Prefect was 4ft 9in wide with an 18 inch long seat cushion in 1953. This compared to a 2011 Ford Focus that was 6ft 1in wide with a 23 inch long seat cushion.

Government statistics show that more than 60 per cent of adults in England and a third of 10 and 11-year-olds are obese.

In August The Lancet medical journal said that by 2030 more than 11m would classed as obese, with a body mass index (BMI) above 30, compared with a healthy BMI score of between 18.5 and 25.

Obesity and chronic health conditions such as high blood pressure and diabetes cost Britain £20 billion a year in terms of lost productivity, it was claimed last month.

It was recently disclosed that over the past five years Yorkshire Ambulance Service spent nearly £10 million on specialist vehicles to transport obese patients.

Speaking earlier this month at a launch that unveiled plans to cut obesity levels by 2020, Andrew Lansley, the Health Secretary, said Britain had to become a nation of calorie counters to counter the obesity crisis.

For GPs appointment- call NHS Health Direct if you want to see your doctor

Patients will have to contact a call centre to arrange GP appointments under plans for NHS Health Direct to handle bookings for local doctors’ surgeries.For GPs appointment- call NHS Health Direct if you want to see your doctorAnyone wanting an appointment will first have to contact NHS Direct by dialling 111, which will be used as the new non-emergency medical number.

Call centre staff would then make their booking remotely, meaning patients would no longer speak to a GP receptionist directly.

The scheme is being tested by 20 practices in Surrey, and appears to have the backing of Andrew Lansley, the Health Secretary.

Doctors behind the proposal believe it will make booking appointments easier, but patients’ groups fear that many will find having to book through a call centre “hugely frustrating”.

There are also concerns that it could erode the role of dedicated GP receptionists – many of whom build up a close rapport with their doctors’ patients – with people having to deal with anonymous call centre staff with little medical experience instead. Unions believe thousands of receptionists could lose their jobs.

The move follows a report commissioned by the Department of Health last year that said millions of pounds could be saved each year if national or regional call centres were set up to handle GP appointments.

Exact details of the Surrey pilot have yet to be decided, but under one option patients would ring 111, ask for NHS Direct and then speak to a call centre worker who would book their appointment remotely. The doctors involved insist it will free receptionists to carry out other administrative duties.

Dr Joe McGilligan, a doctor in Redhill, Surrey, said: “Everyone in the NHS has to become more efficient and this is one way of doing that.”

Emphasising that he wanted to make life easier for patients, he said: “People complain about telephone services in GPs’ surgeries all the time. We only have a fixed number of lines.”

Patients would still have the option to ask to be put through directly to the surgery if they wanted to speak to a receptionist, he said. Another option was for the 111 number to run in tandem with GP surgery numbers.

“If it was up to me I’d launch this tomorrow, but it will be within six months,” Dr McGilligan told Pulse magazine.

Papers from NHS Direct show that the service is now in talks about handling GP appointments for hundreds of thousands of patients.

NHS Direct has already held talks with GP consortia in Northamptonshire, Nottinghamshire, Cambridgeshire and London, according to Pulse, while managers also plan to discuss the idea with doctors in Birmingham, Torquay and south Gloucestershire.

NHS Direct is already booking out-of-hours GP appointments in several areas.

Dr Brian Gaffney, medical director of NHS Direct and a GP in Downpatrick, Co Down, said doctors were “keen to work with us”. “We know as GPs we can’t cope with demand for our practice appointments,” he said.

But other doctors and Unison, which represents receptionists, fear any move to centralise bookings could harm patient care. Karen Jennings, head of health at Unison, said: “We’ve all waited on the phone to get through to a call centre, with irritating muzak playing in the background. It’s a hugely frustrating, depersonalised, even upsetting experience, made even worse if you are ill or caring for a sick child or elderly relative.

“A properly funded receptionist, who knows their patients and can treat them with dignity, respect, and urgency, is what patients want.”

Dr Philip Cox, a GP from Buxton, Derbyshire, called the idea “ludicrous”. He said: “It will cause chaos and patients will be totally frustrated.”

Katherine Murphy, chief executive of the Patients Association, cautioned that people would not want their receptionist to be replaced. “Patients want local services with people that know them.”

Before Christmas, the Department of Health distanced itself from the idea of centralising bookings, saying there were “no plans” for a national call centre. But last month, Mr Lansley indicated he was in favour, saying he hoped patients “will be able to make bookings” through the 111 number.

From: Call-NHS-Health- Direct-if-you-want-to-visit-your-doctor

NHS Direct under growing strain as doctors told to give Tamiflu to low risk patients

HS Direct is struggling to cope as the number of people using the helpline dramatically increases due to freezing weather and the swine flu outbreak.NHS Direct under growing strain as doctors told to give Tamiflu to low risk patientsAmid claims some patients had waited for two days to speak to a nurse, officials urged patients to use a new online health information service.

Senior nurses suggested the helpline was struggling to cope with the overload of calls as figures show the number of people calling the helpline had dramatically increased over the past few days.

An NHS Direct spokeswoman admitted the telephone advice service was “experiencing extremely high demand as a result of the severe weather”. She said the service had received 50 per cent more calls than forecast.

Up to 46,000 people called the service last weekend, the equivalent of almost 960 an hour.

It was also disclosed that there had been 5,700 more calls made to NHS Direct last week compared with the same week last year.

The online “symptom checker” system was used 160,000 times while the colds and flu symptom system was the most used service with almost 59,000 checks.

NHS Direct management apologised to patients who had been forced to wait longer than expected.

It came as doctors were told they could prescribe Tamiflu to otherwise healthy people suffering from flu as the illness prompts a surge in hospital admissions.

The move is an indication of the authorities’ concern about the risks from swine flu, which has become the predominant strain of the virus this winter and is striking younger age groups than usual.

Cases of flu have risen more than six fold in three weeks, the latest figures show.

Normally antiviral drugs, such as Tamiflu and Relenza, are only prescribed to people with flu who have other conditions such as heart disease and severe asthma because of the extra risk that influenza poses to them.

But officials are so concerned at the number of otherwise healthy people who have been admitted to hospital that they are taking special measures to lift these restrictions.

Doctors will be able to use their discretion and prescribe the drugs, which shorten the length of the illness by about one day and reduce spread, to anyone they think will benefit.

The drugs are most effective if taken within 48-hours of symptoms first appearing.

Prof Dame Sally Davies, interim Chief Medical Officer, has written to all GPs with the new instructions as figures were released showing there are more than 300 people in intensive care with flu, higher than during any point in last year’s pandemic. Last week there were 180 people in intensive care.

Nine of the 17 deaths, that have so far been linked to flu this winter, were in otherwise healthy people. None of those victims had been vaccinated with this year’s seasonal flu jab or the pandemic vaccine against just swine flu that was administered last year.

Figures released by the Royal College of GPs disclosed that the number of people going to their GP with flu-like symptoms has more than doubled in a week. There were 87 consultations per 100,000 people in the week up until December 19th compared with 34 the week before.

In the week ending December 5th just 13 consultations per 100,000 people were about fly symptoms. Illness was most common in children aged between five and 14, followed by children under four, and those aged between 15 and 44.

It is not known how many of those people have had swine flu but the H1N1 virus is the most common this winter.

The letter to GPs said: “Antiviral treatments for influenza are currently only available from GPs for NHS patients who are in a designated “at clinical risk” category.

“The most recent surveillance data indicate that higher than normal numbers of patients, who are not in one of the “at clinical risk” groups, are becoming seriously ill with flu – requiring hospitalisation.

“Regulations currently say that prescribers should not order oseltamivir and zanamivir [Tamiflu and Relenza] for patients who are not in the target risk groups.”

It added: “However, the Chief Medical Officer has recommended that the current restrictions should be amended to allow general practitioners (and other prescribers) to exercise their clinical discretion so that any patient who their GP feels is at serious risk of developing complications from influenza may receive these treatments on the NHS.

“This is consistent with guidance from NICE which informs the existing statutory restrictions but which envisages that prescribers may exercise their clinical discretion in individual cases.

“Whilst antiviral manufacturers and wholesalers should have sufficient supply to meet demand, prescribers and pharmacists are asked to consider carefully the need to order sensibly and not to stockpile. Stockpiling and over-ordering could cause shortages.”

It comes as doctors in some parts of the country are preparing to open their surgeries on Christmas Day to deal with large localised outbreaks of flu.

Doctors in Leicester have said the outbreak there is the worst for ten years.

Some GP practices will open on Christmas Day and Boxing Day as well as the Monday and Tuesday bank holidays – although doctors will only see patients registered at the practice.

Ivan Brown, a public health consultant with NHS Leicester City, said: “As things stand at the moment, we are confident we are managing well but we must do anything we can to avoid unnecessary admissions to hospital.

“At the moment, we do have enough hospital beds. There aren’t a huge number to play with but there are enough.

“I understand people are going to have a good deal of anxiety but, for the vast majority of individuals, the raft of winter-related illnesses around are self-limiting and patients will recover.”

Dr Brian Gaffney, NHS Direct’s Medical Director, urged people to use the online system.

“Patients can be assured that they will receive the same quality of advice that they have come to expect from the telephone service when they access our services online,” he said.

Meanwhile sales of over-the-counter medicine have increased dramatically as patients try to keep themselves well at home.

Tesco has reported a surge in demand for cold relieving powders and drinks, cough syrup, lozenges for sore throats and other related pain relievers and is selling around half a million of these products a day.

Tesco pharmacy buyer Joy Wickham said: “As if the Arctic temperatures and horrendous travelling conditions aren’t bad enough the UK is suffering a higher than normal incidence of colds and flu illness.

“We are selling nearly half a million cold and flu remedies plus pain relievers a day while our flu jab service uptake has more than trebled.

“Since the recent heavy snowfall we are also seeing far higher than normal demand in our high street Express stores which suggests that shoppers are finding it easier to buy their essentials in urban areas.”


NHS Direct- Andrew Lansley backtracks over closure

A political row has erupted after Andrew Lansley the health secretary was accused of making “a significant U-turn” over plans to scrap NHS Direct, in the face of widespread public anger.
NHS Direct- Andrew Lansley backtracks over closureAndrew Lansley said that NHS Direct would remain but that its telephone number would be replaced so that from 2013 people could call 111 for non-emergencies and 999 for emergencies.

“I have not announced plans to scrap NHS Direct. I have announced plans to phase out the NHS Direct number,” the health secretary said in a letter.

This appears to contradict statements from the Department of Health last month, including to the BBC, that said the service would be scrapped. The new 111 helpline is already being piloted in the north-east of England.

However, there are concerns that fewer medical staff will be employed by the new service. NHS Direct employs 3,400 people, 40% of whom are trained nurses. It was reported that the ratio for the new helpline would be lower.

The threat to the telephone service, which costs £123m a year to run, provoked an immediate backlash. In the fortnight since the story broke, more than 16,000 people have signed a petition to save NHS Direct, which provides general health advice and information about out-of-hours GPs, walk-in centres, emergency dentists and 24-hour chemists.

Lord Prescott, the former deputy prime minister, played an active role in the campaign – including changing his Twitter picture to a “Save NHS Direct” badge.

Significantly, the Royal College of Nursing said it would be “shortsighted” of ministers to axe a service that had saved the NHS more than £200 million by dispensing advice over the phone.

Labour attacked Lansley for a “significant U-turn” that had seen the health secretary “rowing back” from previous statements. “It’s an incredible victory for the campaign to save NHS Direct,” said Andy Burnham, Labour’s leadership contender and spokesman for health.

A series of letters between Lansley and Burnham, the previous health secretary, reveals a combative exchange. Burnham accused his Tory counterpart of “misrepresenting his position” as Lansley claimed that the 111 number was Labour’s idea and he was “getting on with what you failed to do”.

In a statement the health secretary said: “This is the latest political stunt from [Burnham]. He seems more concerned with trying to boost his leadership campaign than discussing our policies accurately.”

Unions warned that the future of medical staffing levels in the new service would remain an issue. Dave Prentis, general secretary of Unison, said: “Staff will still be confused and worried the government may have another change of heart. I would like a guarantee from the health minister that the 1,300 nurses working for NHS Direct will still have a job there this time next year.”

Despite its popularity, the medical establishment has been divided over the benefits of phone line. Earlier this summer British Medical Association chairman Dr Laurence Buckman said that getting rid of NHS Direct could be one way of cutting back on spending — adding that the “expensive” phoneline delayed healthcare reaching patients.

From: Lansley backtracks

NHS Direct helpline- Government confirms plan to scrap website

The government has confirmed it is planning to scrap the NHS Direct telephone service in England and replace it with an alternative service.
NHS Direct helpline- Government confirms plan to scrap websiteNick Chapman, chief executive of NHS Direct: “The new helpline will be better and more cost effective than NHS Direct” A new 1-1-1 helpline is already being piloted in north-east England.

It was previously reported that the new service may replace NHS Direct, but now the Department of Health has confirmed it will definitely do so.

The move comes as the government curtails public spending, even though it has promised to protect the NHS.

The change will not affect existing NHS helpline services in Scotland and Wales.

Health Secretary Andrew Lansley announced the plan to scrap NHS Direct in England during a hospital visit.

NHS Direct currently employs more than 3,000 staff, 40% of whom are trained nurses. It is understood the ratio on the 1-1-1 helpline is “slightly less” in the pilot, but no figures are yet available for what will happen when the scheme is rolled out nationally.

Critics claim the change would undermine the quality of the service by reducing the number of qualified nurses answering calls, but chief executive of NHS Direct Nick Chapman told the BBC the new helpline would be better and more cost effective than NHS Direct.

In June GPs urged the government to get rid of NHS Direct, claiming it was not cost effective.

Roughly 14,000 people a day call NHS Direct for medical advice, with the service costing £123m a year to run.

Dr Peter Carter, chief executive and general secretary of The Royal College of Nursing , said reducing the number of specialist nurses who worked on the new helpline was “short-sighted.”

He said: “We urge the government to consult fully and look at all the evidence before enacting changes which could leave people without expert advice from trained nurses.”


Dental NHS copayments total £4.5bn since 1997

NHS dental patients have paid £4.5bn in charges since 1997, while 2 million people have “lost” their dentist, the Conservatives have claimed.The total paid in charges per year increased 22 per cent between 1997 and 2007, according to figures released to shadow health secretary Andrew Lansley.

New analysis by the Conservatives reveals that:

NHS dental patients have paid £4.5 billion in charges under Labour since 1997, despite 2 million people losing their NHS dentist.

Although spread between fewer patients, the annual amount paid in dental charges has soared by 22 per cent since 1997. Patients are now on average paying 35 per cent more for NHS dental treatment than they were in 1997.

Shadow Health Minister Mike Penning said: “Labour’s dental legacy is one of shameful failure.

“Not only are people now paying 35 per cent more when they see their NHS dentist, but Labour’s botched policies mean that millions of hard-working families have completely lost access to affordable dental care.

“Labour ministers need to own up to their mistakes, stop dithering and take action now to rectify the mess they’ve got the country into.”