Not many first world countries have gone backwards in health provision, population health and life expectancy. The UK may be the first…

If the UKs 4 health services are not founded on an ideological and financial “rock”, we cannot expect anything else than perpetual compromise. The political result of this constant compromise is that health is ignored as a systematic entity. The politics of smaller mutual, as in Wales and Scotland relative to England, is that something has to give. The history of the world shows that if you wish to go backwards generally, you engage in war, or devolution (divorce is expensive), and increase your overheads at the same time. Good examples are Yugoslavia, Ukraine, Sudan. Not many first world countries have gone backwards in health provision, population health and life expectancy. (since the Roman Empire?) The UK may be the first… To make matters worse, the gini coefficient of the world is getting worse…. (Inequality revisited. ) Elderly people are left to fend for themselves, when they should be cared for, and decisions on closing hospitals are made by political dogma rather than need. Pembrokeshire is a case in point, where we rejected a new build 10 years ago, and now that all three hospitals are degenerating plant, the Health Board is threatening to close Withybush, (BBC News) where the population rises most in summer, and where the transport links are poor enough to ensure more deaths on the roads.

Matt Ridley makes a good point when he opines 22nd Jan 2018 in the Times: The NHS is failing to order life‑saving tech – British companies are at the forefront of the diagnostic revolution yet too much of what they invent ends up sold abroad

As happens in the media, the excitement generated last week by the headline that cancer could be detected in the blood was overdone. The results announced in Science magazine are a long way short of meaning that the earliest signs of cancer can be detected in people with no symptoms: the 70 per cent success rate in finding DNA from 16 cancerous genes was in people already diagnosed with serious cancers. False hopes may have been raised.

Yet behind the headline there is little doubt that a revolution in diagnostics is happening. Until now, the slow process of culturing infectious agents to identify them has not changed much since the days of Louis Pasteur. It is becoming increasingly possible to identify the precise virus, bacterium, drug-resistant strain, antibody or telltale molecule that defines exactly what is wrong with somebody, quickly and without invasive procedures or lengthy cultures in distant labs. Yet Britain is lagging behind comparable countries in joining that revolution.

Proteins, small molecules or DNA sequences, even if present in minuscule concentrations, can now be picked out by new techniques that combine biochemistry and electronics in ever more ingenious ways. Clever algorithms analysing multiple molecular tests promise even more precision. (Disclosure: I am an early-stage investor in a start-up working in the DNA diagnostics field.)

The day when somebody visiting a rural clinic in Africa, or an urban GP’s surgery in London, can be told within minutes — rather than days — that they have latent tuberculosis, and whether or not it is drug-resistant, will soon be on us, even if there are vanishingly few bacterial cells in the sample. The day when somebody can be told whether they have the genetic combination that makes them react poorly to warfarin or some other drug is coming fast too. The earlier detection of cancer through non-invasive blood tests is also coming, but a bit more slowly. Early treatment of cancer not only saves lives, it saves money. Stage one treatment for most cancers is a third to a quarter as costly as stage four.

In other words, guessing at a diagnosis based on symptoms, or relying on distant laboratories, is being replaced by simple, sometimes handheld, devices in the clinic. For some hypochondriacs, this will be a moment of vindication. (“I told you I was ill” is the epitaph engraved on Spike Milligan’s headstone in Winchelsea.) For others, it will be a moment of humiliation. Quite a few of those who claim to have Lyme disease or gluten intolerance are imagining it and need to be told so. The quacks and alternative practitioners who foment their worries and plunder their wallets deserve to be put out of business by new diagnostic tests.

The counterproductive practice of prescribing antibiotics for colds, against which they are wholly ineffective, should also end. In passing, I remain surprised by how little impact the germ theory of disease has made on ordinary people’s thinking in the 170 years since John Snow first railed against the obsession with blaming cholera on air pollution. To this day I meet hordes of people who insist their colds were caused by getting wet, or getting run down, or being unhappy, rather than by shaking hands with somebody who carried a virus.

There is a problem for Britain in this diagnostic revolution. For mainly historical reasons, the National Health Service can sometimes be profligate in the way it treats diseases, giving in too readily to the blandishments of drug companies with very slightly better, but much more expensive, versions of a treatment. However, it is the opposite with diagnostics. The NHS is notoriously resistant to ordering “tests”, and is exceedingly parsimonious when it comes to buying new blood-diagnostic tools.

The statistics bear this out. The size of the in-vitro diagnostics market in Britain per head of population (not counting infrastructure) is less than half that of Germany and Italy, and about the same as Slovakia and Croatia. This, says the British In Vitro Diagnostics Association, is partly because “the benefits of diagnostics are often either misunderstood, or worse, not considered at all” and “the NHS is too inflexible when it comes to adopting new IVD tests. Typically, solutions are still thought of as pharmaceuticals and consideration is not given to how IVDs could be adopted in the system to improve outcomes”.

For example, the leaders of the Northern Irish company Randox, a world-leading pioneer in blood diagnostics with proteins, tear their hair out at how little they are able to benefit their home market, as opposed to overseas. They have tests that could save lives and money on a grand scale by earlier and fewer treatments. But the monolithic NHS cannot find it within its budget silos to buy such tests. Elsewhere in the world innovations that save lives and money are much more welcome.

In the main pathology field of clinical chemistry and immunoassay testing (80 per cent of all testing) only one new test has been widely adopted by the NHS in the past ten years: high-sensitivity troponin for detecting myocardial infarction, or heart attack. That was adopted because a dominant private-sector provider effectively stopped producing an older test. The NHS realises the test is very useful, but industry insiders say that left to its own devices, it might not yet have adopted even this test.

Randox now has a complementary test for heart attack management, based on fatty acid proteins, but although there is significant international interest the firm is struggling to get the NHS to adopt it. The fatty acid proteins are released into the bloodstream by damaged heart cells within 30 minutes, whereas troponin is released only when heart cells die after several hours. Combined with troponin, the test would more rapidly identify the one fifth of patients with chest pain in accident and emergency who need treatment and the four fifths who can be safely sent home, freeing up beds and saving about £225 million a year.

Stem cells, gene therapy and gene editing promise a new generation of medicines for treating disease. However, proteomics and genomics are transforming diagnosis into a cheap, rapid and accurate process that is probably going to have an even bigger effect on most people’s health. The UK is good at inventing this stuff and selling it to the world, but terrible at applying it for the benefit of its citizens.

Kate Hope for BBC News 22nd Jan 2018: ‘World’s richest 1% get 82% of the wealth’, says Oxfam

The Crisis in General Practice is reality, and it’s going to get worse. Illegal suggestions to charge patients are a measure of desparation.

We need tiered rationing according to means… Drugs costing 8p a day could be  hit by ‘devastating’ NHS rationing plan.. What a good idea. 

Cleaning up the UK Health Services, changing the culture and importing honesty..

NHSreality wants scapegoats – and suggests the successive ministers of health (for England). Allyson Pollock might agree..

Tell Wales it isn’t working. Inequality is increasing…. better to “aspire to excellence”.

Inequality revisited.

NHS History

A million lonely pensioners left to starve in their homes (The Times 22nd Jan)

Update 23rd Jan

Chris Smyth in the Times: A million lonely pensioners left to starve in their homes

….Frank Field, chairman of the group, said: “Beneath the radar there are malnourished older people in this country spending two or three months withering away in their own homes, with some entering hospital weighing five and a half stone with an infection, or following a fall, which keeps them there for several torturous days, if not weeks.”

Theresa May said that loneliness was the “sad reality of modern life” as she appointed Britain’s first minister for loneliness last week. Tracey Crouch promised a strategy to deal with isolation and Mr Field said that his findings should be the “first report on her desk”.

About 1.3 million over-65s are thought to be malnourished but the MPs called for a more up-to-date estimate….

This entry was posted in A Personal View, Stories in the Media on by .

About Roger Burns - retired GP

I am a retired GP and medical educator. I have supported patient participation throughout my career, and my practice, St Thomas; Surgery, has had a longstanding and active Patient Participation Group (PPG). I support the idea of Community Health Councils, although I feel they should be funded at arms length from government. I have taught GP trainees for 30 years, and been a Programme Director for GP training in Pembrokeshire 20 years. I served on the Pembrokeshire LHG and LHB for a total of 10 years. I completed an MBA in 1996, and I along with most others, never had an exit interview from any job in the NHS! I completed an MBA in 1996, and was a runner up for the Adam Smith prize for economy and efficiency in government in that year. This was owing to a suggestion (St Thomas' Mutual) that practices had incentives for saving by being allowed to buy rationed out services in the following year.

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