The seventieth anniversary of the NHS has made me reflect on how proud I am to have contributed to its work for over the past twenty-odd years. Founded on 5 July 1948, the service continues to this day to operate to the same three core principles – meeting the needs of everyone, free at the point of delivery, and based on clinical need.
Aside from providing comprehensive, high-quality healthcare services to virtually the entire UK population, the other thing that the NHS is known for is the constant political bickering that carries on in the background, with criticisms about chronic under-funding and stealth privatisation. However, these are not new issues, with medicines an important reason for the challenges the NHS now faces.
In a response to concerns about rising costs, perhaps the first … Read more
As the NHS celebrates its 70th birthday, I hope that in another 58 years there will be similar celebrations and appreciation when its research arm, the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR), turns 70.
In a recent BMJ poll marking the 70th anniversary of the NHS, ‘research’ came last out of a top 10 NHS achievements. However, competition was stiff, ‘being free at point of use’ coming top. As a GP and NIHR post-doctoral fellow, I felt conflicted: should I vote for general practice or research? I admit to voting for the former – primary care needs every plaudit it can get currently – 90% of contacts in the NHS, for less than 9% of the NHS budget, and all that.
So, if the adolescent NIHR, as progeny of the NHS, is to survive … Read more
Over a billion NHS prescription medicines are issued by pharmacists in England every year – at a cost of over £9 billion. Many of these are prescribed by GPs to manage long-term health conditions, such as diabetes or cardiovascular disease.
The current “repeat prescription” system allows patients to request a further supply of medicines without the inconvenience of another doctor’s appointment.
The UK Department of Health advises that the frequency of repeat prescriptions should “balance patient convenience with clinical appropriateness, cost-effectiveness and patient safety”.
However, it does not recommend a specific time period. As a result, local health service commissioners have developed their own guidance, with many encouraging GPs to issue short-term supplies of repeat medications, typically 28 days in length. This is supported by the UK’s Pharmaceutical Services … Read more
As winter continues, so does the usual soul searching about the state of the UK’s National Health Service (NHS). Images of ambulances backing up outside emergency departments and patients lying on trolleys in corridors haunt politicians and the public alike.
Demand on the NHS, which is always high, increases over the coldest of seasons, when threats to health are greatest. Generally, more than 20,000 extra deaths occur from December to March than in any other four-month period in England and Wales. That number varies considerably, however – from 17,460 in 2013-4 to 43,850 in 2014-5 (which was not even a particularly cold winter). And there has been no evidence of a decreasing trend since the early 1990s, despite the national flu immunisation programme.
The percentage increase in deaths seen each winter in England and Wales … Read more
I have a problem with gambling. There’s not enough of it.
That was the admission from billionaire Steve Wynn, a major figure in the casino industry, speaking at a recent gambling research conference in (where else?) Las Vegas. And sure, it made for a good quote. But it’s also a rather glib dismissal of a serious issue that affects many thousands of people across the world.
The UK certainly has a problem with gambling. At least it has since 2007, when laws were changed to allow for huge growth in gambling opportunities and exposure. It has been hard to ignore the subsequent explosion in industry advertising, which increased by around 500% between 2007 and 2013. By contrast, you may have missed the increased numbers of high intensity electronic gambling … Read more
I have been a researcher for over two decades. In that time, lamentations about the limited influence of research evidence have grown. But I think we researchers are largely to blame. We steadfastly insist on disseminating our knowledge in ways that we know don’t work.
Researchers usually write scientific papers, because publication is a key career performance metric. But scientific papers are read and digested by other scientists, not those who can act on our findings. Our ethnographic study showed how and why research doesn’t reach policymakers, like healthcare commissioners.
We found that local healthcare commissioners cannot retrieve papers from many scientific journals, as they often do not have passwords or subscriptions. Although open access publication helps, commissioners usually use Google, where scientific papers often do not appear – even if open access. If a … Read more
Imagine being given £400m of taxpayers’ money to spend on drugs for the benefit of NHS cancer patients. How would you decide which therapies to fund? Would you decide that all cancer patients should benefit equally, or would you decide to spend more on particular types of cancer, or on particular types of patient?
These issues were confronted by the Cancer Drugs Fund (CDF), the 2014/15 expenditures of which were £416m (against a budget of £280m). The CDF was created to make available to patients in England cancer drugs not recommended by the National Institute of Health and Care Excellence (NICE) on the basis of cost-effectiveness, not yet appraised by NICE or which were being used outside market authorisations.
The effects of the CDF on population health are controversial: one estimate is that the CDF has caused five … Read more
The gap that apparently needed to be bridged is the gap between what someone called the “ivory towers of academia and the swampy lowlands of commissioning”.
I was sceptical – is there really a gap? Surely healthcare researchers and NHS commissioners are all working in the same sector; we all want to improve things; and we all want to make a difference to our population’s health and well-being. Surely the “gap” can’t be as big as some people make it out to be?
In theory, academia investigates the problems and issues of the sector, provides evidence for things that work and things that don’t; commissioners use this information to make decisions about what services … Read more