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A good week for diabetes patients, a bad week for Google – this week’s Friday Five

Google ‘betrays’ patient trust

Google has been accused of breaking promises to patients after the company announced it is moving its healthcare-focused subsidiary, DeepMind Health, into the main arm of the organisation. This move, some argue, breaks a promise made by DeepMind when it started working with the NHS that “data will never be connected to Google accounts or services”.

Google says the restructure is necessary to allow DeepMind’s flagship health app, Streams, to scale up globally. The app was initially created to help doctors and nurses monitor patients for acute kidney injury, but has since grown to offer a full digital dashboard for patient records. “Our vision is for Streams to now become an AI-powered assistant for nurses and doctors everywhere – combining the best algorithms with intuitive design, all backed up by rigorous evidence,” DeepMind said, announcing the transfer. “The team working within Google, alongside brilliant colleagues from across the organisation, will help make this vision a reality.”

Privacy research Julia Powles argued, “Making this about semantics is a sleight of hand. DeepMind said it would never connect Streams with Google. The whole Streams app is now a Google product. That is an atrocious breach of trust, for an already beleaguered product.” A DeepMind spokesperson emphasised, however, that the core of the promise remains intact: “All patient data remains under our partners’ strict control, and all decisions about its use lie with them. This data remains subject to strict audit and access controls and its processing remains subject to both our contracts and data protection legislation.”

Read more in The Guardian.


Glucose monitors made available to thousands with diabetes

World Diabetes Day was this week, and with it came the announcement from NHS England that wearable glucose monitors will be made available to tens of thousands more people with type 1 diabetes in April 2019.

The decision came after an investigation found that patients in some areas of England were being denied access to the device, which reduces the need for finger-prick blood tests and helps with management of the condition.

The glucose monitoring system, used by Prime Minister Theresa May, was made available on the NHS last November and yet research suggests that only 3-5% of type 1 patients had access to the monitors on the NHS despite 25% being eligible. This was due to some clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) deciding not to prioritise funding for the devices. NHS England said the device would now be funded to allow access throughout the country in all 195 CCGs.

Read more on the BBC.


Antibiotic Awareness Week: antibiotics ‘drastically’ overused, WHO warns

Key antibiotics that are meant to be used sparingly to prevent a rise in drug resistant bacterial infections account for over half of prescriptions in some countries, a World Health Organisation (WHO) report has warned.

These drugs, categorised as “watch” antibiotics, include carbapenem and cephalosporin medicines, which can have serious side effects and are more likely to lead to bacteria rapidly evolving to resist them if they’re overused. Antibiotics are often wrongly prescribed for viral infections like colds and flu where they have no benefit, and half of all doses are given to livestock as an industrial farming method of encouraging animals to grow.

Mongolia has the highest levels of prescribing of any nation, with 64.4 daily doses issues for every 1,000 people, followed by Iran with 38.8 and Turkey on 38.2. In the UK, antibiotics make up around 20% of prescriptions but this is even lower in Nordic countries like Sweden and Finland. Health experts in England have still warned that medicine could “return to the dark ages” if countries fail to curb overuse.

“Overuse and misuse of antibiotics are the leading causes of antimicrobial resistance,” said Dr Suzanne Hill, director of the Department of Essential Medicines and Health Products at WHO. “Without effective antibiotics and other antimicrobials, we will lose our ability to treat common infections like pneumonia.”

Read more in the Independent.


Cancer screening set to be overhauled 

Cancer screening programmes are to break reviewed following news that tens of thousands of women in England did not receive information on cervical cancer screenings, including abnormal test results. This in turn came just months after it emerged 174,000 women had not been invited for breast cancer screening, with mistakes going undetected for years.

NHS England has asked former government cancer tsar Sir Mike Richards to look at what changes are needed and  to look at whether the programmes are making sufficient use of technology and whether the age ranges for the types of screening being offered is right. The results are expected by the summer of next year.

Read more on the BBC.


Diesel pollution stunts lung growth, study finds

Research conducted with over 2,000 schoolchildren in London has found that pollution from diesel vehicles is stunting the growth of children’s lungs.

The study, published in the Lancet Public Health, found the capacity of children’s lungs was reduced by about 5% when NO2 pollution was above legal levels, and also showed that charges to deter polluting trucks from entering the city did reduce air pollution a little but did not reduce the harm to children’s lungs.

“We are raising a generation of children with stunted lung capacity,” said Prof Chris Griffiths, at Queen Mary University of London, who led the research team. “If your lungs are already smaller than they should be as you enter adulthood, then as they decline with age you’ll be at higher risk of an early death,” as well as at a higher risk of lung diseases, he said.

Read more in the Guardian.


Quote of the week

“The single biggest problem in the NHS at the moment is that we don’t have enough people wanting to work in it.”

This week’s quote comes from Dido Harding, chair of NHS Improvement, following the news that the NHS could be short of 350,000 staff by 2030.

Health experts and think tanks have warned that the accelerating NHS staff crisis could lead to 350,000 vacancies by 2030. In England, the NHS is already short of over 100,000 staff, including 10,000 doctors and 40,000 nurses. However, on current trends, analysts project that the gap between staff needed and the number available could reach almost 250,000 by 2020. A lack of 250,000 staff would mean that about one in six of all NHS posts were unfilled. The NHS employs about 1.2 million people.

Read more in The Guardian.

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