top of page

A good week for dementia and Alzheimer’s prevention, a bad week for hospital patients –

NHS announces evening and weekend GP appointments

Evening and weekend GP appointments have been rolled out across England this week, NHS England has announced, with an estimated nine million extra appointments per year are now available to patients. The service has reportedly arrived three months ahead of schedule and will help ease pressure on the health service during the winter period. A further £3.5 billion will be invested in primary medical and community services, which will also improve access to weekday “in hours” services, NHS England said.

Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, chair of the Royal College of GPs (RCGP), said: “GPs across the country are going above and beyond to ensure we can deliver good, safe care for our patients under intense resource and workforce pressures. All practices in England now offer some form of extended access to routine GP services, and they will have tailored these to the needs of their local population.”

NHS England said extended appointment times proved popular during trials, including in Herefordshire where more than nine in 10 appointments were used by patients in August. In London, where the services have existed for 18 months, almost three quarters of appointments are taken up. A recent investigation by Pulse revealed, however, that more than one in four GP appointments were left unused at weekends in pilot areas.

Read more in the Telegraph.


Virtual reality will detect Alzheimer’s risk

Scientists have found an interesting use for virtual reality headsets – to help pinpoint people who may later develop Alzheimer’s disease. The devices, widely used by computer gamers, display images that can be used to test the navigational skills of people thought to be at risk of dementia.

The discovery that loss of navigational skills was associated with Alzheimer’s disease was made several years ago by Dennis Chan, a neuroscientist based at Cambridge University and colleagues based at several centres in the UK. Those studies used tablet computers to test navigational tasks, but now scientists plan to take their tests to a new level with the use of the virtual reality sets in which wearers are immersed in simulated environments through which they must navigate. Around 300 people, aged between 40 and 60, will be recruited to take part in the study.

Read more in the Guardian.


NHS pressures cause avoidable harm to 500 patients a year

A report by the Care Quality Commission (CQC) has found that patients in England are being harmed because medical staff are too busy to enforce safety improvements. Hospital patients are exposed to increased risk, including during surgery, because safety alerts are not being implemented by doctors and nurses struggling with “unmanageable” workloads.

About 500 people a year are suffering avoidable harm as a result of “never events” – serious lapses in patient safety that can cause injuries or even death and should be completely avoidable. They include surgeons operating on the wrong part of a patient’s body and swabs being left inside someone during their procedure. Staff shortages, a high turnover of personnel and confusion over which of an array of NHS bodies is responsible for patient safety are also contributing to a stubbornly high incidence of “never events”, the CQC found. The latest figures show that “never events” in the NHS in England rose from 290 in 2012-13 to 468 last year.

The CQC stated that, “Staff at both leadership and frontline levels told us that they felt overwhelmed by the volume and nature of the demands currently placed on them. The number of alerts and amount of other information from multiple organisations, for example about different targets and initiatives, can be unmanageable.”

NHS Improvement, which oversees patient safety, said it intended to halve the number of “never events” and drug errors, in a drive to make the NHS the world’s safest healthcare system. Caroline Dinenage, the care minister, said the report “recognises that NHS staff’s commitment to patient safety is unwavering, but this needs to be matched by systems and a working culture which give safety the priority it deserves.”

Read more in the Guardian.


Exercise and healthy diet can reduce brain ageing 

A new study has revealed that six months of regular exercise and eating a healthy diet significantly improved the cognitive performance of 160 people age 55 and above.

During the study, the researchers recruited people whose thinking skills were tested to be similar to people in their 90s. All had a sedentary lifestyle prior to the study. They were divided into four groups: one did aerobic exercises, one ate a low-sodium diet, one exercised regularly and ate a healthy diet and one control group who participated in classes to improve brain health. After six months, the group that changed its diet and exercised regularly showed the best improvements in cognitive tests. They lowered their brain age by nine years, resembling the cognitive performance of people who are 84 years old.

Professor James Blumenthal, professor of psychiatry from Duke University Medical Center and one of the researchers, said that a healthy diet and regular exercise improved the brain performance of those who were at risk of developing cognitive problems, including dementia. While he warned that a healthy lifestyle alone can cure dementia, he said that it could lead to overall well-being.

“The bottom line is that it’s not too late to derive benefits from exercise, even in this group of people who have evidence of cognitive impairments,” Blumenthal stated.



NHS to offer students £5k to become mental health nurses

The NHS will offer mature students a £5,000 bonus to become mental health or learning disability nurses as part of its forthcoming long term plan. The payments are designed to tackle severe nursing shortages in two areas that NHS bosses and ministers have agreed are key priorities in which care needs to be significantly improved.

Applications for undergraduate degree courses in nursing have plummeted by 32% since bursaries for student nurses were scrapped in England in 2016, despite warnings that the move would backfire. Applications from mature students to study mental health and disability nursing fell even more sharply – by 40% – between 2016 and this year. Interest has dwindled so dramatically that many universities are considering axing their specialist courses.

Prof Donna Kinnair, the Royal College of Nursing’s acting chief executive, said: “With nursing student numbers falling and the number of unfilled nurse jobs projected to rise as high as 48,000 in the next five years, the situation is desperate. This is a small step in the right direction, but this kind of policy would benefit only a very limited group of people. If the government and NHS England want to attract more people to study nursing, and begin to tackle the increasingly dangerous shortfall in nurse numbers, we need more than tinkering.”

Read more in the Guardian.


Quote of the week

“The Long Term Plan is not important because it has some extraordinary growth in funding behind it: far from it… It’s important because it does have materially more money behind it than anything we’ve seen in the last decade – and because it represents a chance to go forward on reform.”

This week’s quote comes from upcoming King’s Fund chief executive Richard Murray, who is due to take over from Chris Ham just days before the release of the delayed Long Term Plan.

Read Richard’s interview in full in the Guardian.

bottom of page