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This week's Friday Five: 16/12/22

Girl's incurable cancer cleared by new revolutionary therapy

In May last year Alyssa, a 13-year-old girl from Leicester was diagnosed with T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukaemia - an aggressive form of blood cancer which originates in the bone marrow. After failed Chemotherapy treatments, and a bone-marrow transplant Alyssa started an experimental procedure developed by doctors at Great Ormond Street Hospital. The treatment is called base editing and involves chemically altering the molecular structure of a single base of the DNA sequence (adenine, cytosine, guanine or thymine) and changing the genetic code. The team of doctors utilised this approach to develop a type of T-cell (made from modified donor cells) that was capable of detecting and destroying the cancerous T-cells.

Alyssa was the first person to be treated with this technology which was invented 6 years ago and after 6 months of receiving it the cancer remains undetectable. Dr David Liu, one of the developers of base editing at the Broad Institute discusses the implications of this new intervention.

He said: "It is extremely exciting. Obviously, this is a new field in medicine and it's fascinating that we can redirect the immune system to fight cancer."

Read more at BBC News

Hospitals in England are paying £5200 for a single agency doctor's shift

According to figures obtained by Labour through the Freedom of Information request hospitals in England have paid out as much as £5,200 through agencies for a single doctor's shift. A fee which covers the cost of the agency, employer and doctor.

These figures which cover the financial year 2021/2022, add fuel to the intense debates over the worker shortages in NHS England where Labour has blamed these high agency fees on Conservatives neglecting to train adequate numbers of nurses and doctors. If elected, Labour has proposed to train 10,000 more nurses and 7,500 more doctors annually - training which they will fund through abolishing the non-dom tax status.

Around 40% of major hospital trusts in England provided information to the Freedom of Information request, with data highlighting that one in three trusts paid an agency more than £3,000 and three quarters paid more than £2,000 for a single doctor's shift. The most expensive fee paid was by a trust in Northern England, which saw £5,234 spent on a single shift.

The NHS Confederation highlighted that these figures reflect the desperation of the staffing crisis, whereby trusts are forced to cough up large fees to meet the high demand facing services and ensure that rotas are staffed safely. Mariam Deakin of NHS Providers (a body representing trusts in England) responds to this information.

She said: "Funding is very tight but agency costs will remain part of the picture while staff are in short supply. Trusts are doing all they can to avoid unnecessary costs."

Read more at BBC News

Government delivers on £50 million pledge to motor neurone disease research

On Monday, the Government announced that they will cut red tape to speed up research into motor neurone disease (MND), a change which they hope will accelerate the development of new treatments. The £50 million pledged for MND includes £29.5 million of government funding into research partnerships and specialist centres and an additional £20.5 million offered for the most innovative treatments through open call processes.

Current work into MND has emphasised how essential research is and how much there is still to do to help those with the condition. In the UK around 5,000 people are living with MND which has an average survival rate of 3 years. Through removing red tape it is believed that funding will reach the frontline quicker and speed up the development of novel interventions. Funding will instead be allocated through Biomedical Research centres - collaborations between clinicians and academics which aim to translate lab breakthroughs into novel therapies - directly to researchers working in MND.

To facilitate better communication, Health Secretary Steve Barclay also plans on hosting a roundtable with researchers and patients groups to discuss current MND research and future opportunities for further funding. Grant Shapps, Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy discusses the impact of these changes.

He said: "We have invested millions of pounds in supporting them in that fight, but we are committed to doing more. Today’s measures will cut unnecessary red tape, getting that vital funding to the front line faster, as well as investing more in the crucial work that our world-leading scientists and researchers are doing."

Read more at Gov UK

Barclay demands ICSs to publish organograms by early January

Integrated care systems (ICSs) have been told to publish a breakdown of staffing costs and numbers to provide greater transparency to the public about frontline spending. HSJ reports that in a letter to ICS chairs and chief executive officers Health Secretary Steve Barclay said that these organograms should show each organisation's team numbers, cost, and grade and be available by January 6th.

The publishing of these organograms aim to educate the general public about how integrated care boards are structured and the steps which are currently being taken to enhance integrated care. However, there has been worry about how the information will be received. Sarah Walter, director of the NHS Confederation's ICS network highlighted that while transparency is important and a key priority among members there is a risk that this data will present a misleading picture. She emphasised that organograms provide limited insight into a changing situation and as charts will be presented without context data must be interpreted carefully and cautiously.

She said: “Given the government’s reforms that introduced [ICSs] were widely supported, it would be a retrograde move if this exercise was used to undermine public confidence in local systems just as they are starting to make progress.”

Read more at HSJ

Quote of the Week

On Sunday the Government rejected a last minute offer from the Royal College of Nursing which sought to halt the upcoming strikes (15th & 20th December) if Health Secretary Steve Barclay entered into pay negotiations. Discussing the rationale behind this decision Mr Barclay argued that increasing pay would derail key Government objectives.

He said: "I don’t want to be taking money away from clearing the backlog which is what we would have to do, we would have to take money away from patients waiting for operations to then fund additional pay."

Read more at The Telegraph

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