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Sugar substitutes, hospital helipads and winter woes – this week’s Friday Five

Missed GP appointments cost NHS England £216m

Officials have said that patients are costing NHS England £216m a year, due to missing consultations. Each appointment costs an average £30 and the overall expenses of patients not cancelling appointments could fund the annual salaries of 2,525 full-time GPs. NHS Digital GP appointments data shows more than 1.2 million GP hours are being wasted each year. This time is being wasted and cancelling appointments would free doctors, nurses and other professionals to see people who need care and attention.

However, there are some flaws in this cost calculation, as the figures show how many booked appointments were not attended but it doesn’t say whether this time was actually wasted. GP surgeries can overbook to allow for the fact that some people will not attend. They may also leave some flexibility for people showing up on the day without a pre-booked appointment. Therefore how many of the missed appointments resulted in a GP being unoccupied is not known.

Read more on BBC.


Study finds there is no evidence that sugar substitutes hold health benefits

As the industry responds to pressure to cut sugar, low-calorie and artificial sweeteners, have increasingly been added to drinks and food. According to a major new review, sweeteners may not help people lose weight and there is not enough evidence on their safety

Public Health England (PHE) have been putting the pressure on food and drink manufacturers to reduce the sugar content of their products in a bid to help tackle the obesity crisis. PHE has asked for a cut of 20% by 2020, with a 5% reduction in the year to April 2018 with many companies having opted to use artificial sweeteners instead of sugar, particularly in soft drinks.

Cochrane – a British medical research charity – carried out the review into artificial sweeteners and aims to provide evidence for the World Health Organization, which is preparing guidance on what it calls “non-sugar sweeteners” or NSSs – a term that includes artificial sweeteners such as aspartame and low or no-calorie natural alternatives such as stevia.

The review was published in the British Medical Journal and stated that “No evidence was seen for health benefits from NSSs and potential harms could not be excluded,” and called for better-quality research to be done.

Read more in the Guardian.


Plans submitted for London’s first ever 24-hour hospital helipad

London is the only major European capital without a 24-hour emergency helipad. King’s College Hospital has applied to extend the operating hours of its helipad in Denmark Hill, which is currently open between 7am and 9pm.

The hospital’s planning application said it consulted 500 residents and claims to have secured “85 per cent” support. It told the council it was “acutely aware” of concerns and proposed a two-year trial of night flights “in view of this sensitivity”. Mayor Sadiq Khan also said he had no objection to the plans and referred the final decision to Lambeth council.

However, despite this seven residents have objected to the plans, saying the noise would disturb their sleep. One said: “The impact on residents would be too great if air ambulances were to land here 24 hours a day.”

Read more in Evening Standard.


Clinical trial for cancer breath test launched 

A clinical trial has been launched by researchers to discover if signals of different cancer types can be picked up in patterns of breathe molecules. The trial will include collecting breathe samples from 1,500 people with cancer.

After the two year trial, the hope is that this technology could be used by GP’s as an early indicator for cancer and decide if patients need to be referred for more tests.

The test works by detecting volatile organic compounds (VOCs) which are released by cells in the body that carry out biochemical reactions as part of their behaviour. But if cancer or other conditions are present, the normal behaviour of cells is altered and they appear to produce a different pattern of molecules – and a different signature smell.

Their ultimate aim is to work out if different types of cancer produce different patterns – or signatures – which can be detected at an early stage. However, there is a long way to go and much more research needed on more people before a breath test will be appearing in any GP surgeries.

Read more on BBC


Hospitals are coping better with winter, says NHS England

Latest figures suggest that hospitals seem to be coping better with winter pressures, an improvement said to be a result of good planning and hard work by staff.

Data released for the festive period showed fewer A&E closures and ambulance delays than the same period last year. Levels of flu and vomiting bug Norovirus also remain low. However, senior doctors warn that this could deteriorate in the coming week because of the arrival of cold weather.

An NHS England spokesperson said: “Thanks to the hard work and preparation of NHS staff, the health service is performing better this winter than last.”

Despite coping better than last year, pressures remain incredibly high, with the three key waiting-time targets for the NHS – covering A&Es, cancer and routine operations – still being missed.

Read more in BBC.


Quote of the week

“Wearable therapy offers unique advantages in that it is often more targeted, cheaper, personalised and has fewer negative side effects.”

This week’s quote comes from Pattie Maes, Professor of media technology at MIT Media Lab, who discusses wearable medical technology and about how it is soon to become crucial for staying alive.

Read Pattie’s article in full in Wired.

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