Friday Five

A good week for suicide prevention and autism diagnosis, a bad week for agency staff and HES – this week’s Friday Five

Prime minister introduces a minister for suicide prevention on World Mental Health Day

Jackie Doyle-Price, an MP since 2010, has been appointed as minister for mental health, inequalities and suicide prevention in England by prime minister Theresa May as the government hosts the first ever global mental health summit.

Her role will include making sure each local area in England has effective plans to stop unnecessary deaths and to look into how technology could help identify those at risk. Manchester University’s Prof Louis Appleby, one of the country’s leading experts on suicide, said having a minister for suicide prevention would “open doors” and make it easier to have conversations about the role such things as benefits and online gambling have in suicidal people’s lives.

Wednesday’s summit, hosted by Health Secretary Matt Hancock and attended by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, coincided with World Mental Health Day and was attended by officials from over 50 countries.

Alongside the announcement, the prime minister pledged £1.8m to the Samaritans so the charity can continue providing its free helpline for the next four years.

Read more on the BBC.


NHS waste firm stripped of contracts

Following last week’s announcement that a criminal investigation was being launched against Healthcare Environmental Services (HES) after a backlog of medical waste was allowed to build up at multiple disposal sites, Health Minister Stephen Barclay has announced the service is to be replaced.

In a statement to Parliament, Barclay said NHS Improvement had concluded that HES “failed to demonstrate that they were operating within their contractual limits. Consequently, 15 NHS Trusts served termination notices to HES formally to terminate their contracts.” New arrangements have instead been made with Mitie.

HES says although it did also collect some body parts, this anatomical waste was correctly stored as per guidelines, and that it had highlighted a reduction in the UK’s high-temperature incineration capacity for the last few years to the UK government, NHS bodies and the Environment Agency.

Read more on the BBC.


Study finds brain fluid can be used to diagnose autism 

A study published in The Lancet Psychiatry has found that an increased amount of extra-axial cerebrospinal fluid was associated with a diagnosis of autism in young children. This spinal fluid is traditionally considered to be a benign substance that protects the brain from shock, however further research suggests it may act as a method of clearing the brain of harmful molecules during sleep.

Researchers studied 236 children, 159 of which had autism. Using MRIs, scientists found that autistic children had 15% more spinal fluid than those who did not. Extra cerebrospinal fluid was associated with lower nonverbal ability – the ability to analyse and solve problems without using words – and poor sleep. This may, explain why autism is often associated with sleep disorders.

Dr. David Beversdorf, an autism research expert at University of Missouri Health Care, says he finds the research “quite intriguing… the salience of this marker for autism spectrum more broadly is clear after this study,” But Beversdorf warns that it’s still not clear how increased cerebrospinal fluid contributes to the causes of autism and that it cannot be assumed to be a cause.

Read more on Heathline.com


Global temperature rise linked to increased mental health problems

According to a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS), a rise in average monthly temperatures is linked to an increase in mental health issues. Based on temperature records, the planet is 1 degree hotter now than it was in 1900.

Researchers combined data from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Behavioural Risk Factor Surveillance System, which includes mental health data on nearly 2 million Americans – possibly the largest public health monitoring survey in the world. The study found that those most vulnerable to the climate change effects studied include people with lower incomes, individuals with existing mental health problems and women, the research indicated.

“We don’t exactly know why we see high temperatures or increasing temperatures produce mental health problems,” said Nick Obradovich, lead author of the study. “For example, is poor sleep due to hot temperatures the thing that produces mental health problems? We have a lot of work to do to figure out precisely what is causing what.”

Read more on CNN.

Hancock to crack down on agency staff

Health and social care secretary Matt Hancock announced via video link at the NHS Providers Conference that the government will launch further crackdowns on the use of agency staff. He criticised continuing use of agency staff as cost ineffective and demoralising to permanent staff.

Hancock expressed frustration at the level of vacancies within the NHS, saying “we’ve also got to remember, as leaders of people, that agency hits morale because if you’re working at three o’clock in the morning on a nurse station and the person next to you is in the hospital for their first time and they find it very hard to do as good a job, you’ve been there for years, and they’re being paid several times more than you for the same shift, and they don’t have the responsibilities and can walk out the door if it all gets a bit much, then that is demoralising. There has already been downward pressure on agency use in the last couple of years but boy there’s going to be a whole lot more.”

NHS Improvement has brought in a cap for agency nurses and doctors but it is regularly breached by hospitals who need to source staff at times of shortages to maintain safety.

Read more in the Health Service Journal (£).


Quote of the week

Our quote of the week comes from health and social care secretary Matt Hancock, who wrote a letter to the British Medical Association promising overhaul of a variety of NHS schemes, such as junior doctor contracts and the Doctors’ and Dentists’ Review Body.

“I am keen to address the challenges that face us for employed doctors and GPs. For all groups I want to see agreements reached that give fair reward for the difficult jobs that you do and sort out some of the longstanding shared concerns about your working lives – contractual and non-contractual.…. I look forward to reaching an agreement that allows us to put the past behind us and move forward.” 

Read more in the Health Service Journal (£).