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This week's Friday Five: 2/12/22

New prostate cancer drug fast-tracked by NHS

The prostate cancer drug darolutamide is to be fast-tracked by the NHS following post-Brexit international partnerships between medical regulators which aims to speed up access to new medicines. The NHS is the first health service in Europe to offer this drug which is shown to improve patient quality of life, extend life by an average of two years in men with advanced stages of the disease, and reduce mortality rates by a third.

In England, prostate cancer remains the most common cancer in men, with 47,000 people being diagnosed annually. The drug, which works by blocking the effects of testosterone and inhibiting cancer cell division, represents an exciting step forward in cancer care and is projected to help over 9,000 men with advanced stage prostate cancer.

Amanda Pritchard, Chief Executive of NHS England acknowledged the importance of this new drug alongside the pivotal role that these post-Brexit international partnerships have for improving cancer treatment. Darolutamide is currently the fifth cancer drug available in England following these early national access agreements.

She said: “The NHS is continuing to lead the way in securing the best possible treatments for patients – this is the latest in a long list of cutting-edge drugs that we have secured to help people to live longer with cancer, making a huge, life-changing difference to patients and their families across the country.”

Read more at The Telegraph

New universal flu vaccine could be ready by 2024

A new paper published by the University of Pennsylvania documents a breakthrough in the development of flu vaccines with the possibility of creating a universal flu vaccine by 2024.

In this research, scientists have used the same mRNA technology developed by Pfizer, BioNTech and Moderna for the COVID-19 vaccines to create a vaccine which hopes to provide a baseline level of immunity to a range of flu strains. Initial testing of this experimental vaccine on mice and ferrets have seen promising results including the protection against 20 known influenza A and B virus subtypes. Additionally, when the animals were exposed to different types of flu not in the vaccine there was a reduction in signs of illness and protection against death.

While this vaccine will not prevent people from ever getting the flu, it hopes to reduce the annual guess work that currently goes into developing novel flu vaccines whereby scientist's attempt to anticipate the dominant strain ahead of flu season. Ultimately, the development of a universal flu vaccine is something which researchers hope will reduce the burden of disease and protect against future pandemics.

In an interview with BBC Radio 4, John Oxford Professor of Neurology at Queen Mary University discussed the significance of this new research.

He said: "I think sometimes we underestimate these big respiratory viruses, I really do. So we have to get a grip on it, we've almost got a grip I think on the Covid, and I think now the influenza is the next big beast out there to tackle."

Read more at The Guardian

Key points from Steve Barclay's speech at The Spectator Health Summit

This Monday Health Secretary Steve Barclay discussed the importance of utilising technology to help improve access to efficient care in the NHS. He said that the NHS is often afraid of bringing in new digital approaches and that this carries increased risks to patients who will suffer from slower NHS response times and staffing shortages.

Barclay argued for greater transparency in the NHS and suggested that through prioritising efficiency as a key objective we are likely to see greater treatment success rates and save money in the long-term. With an NHS budget of £182 billion he argued that a more transparent system, especially regarding current excess death figures, is likely to empower increased patient choice and trust in the system.

Figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) highlight that on average deaths are greater now than in pre-pandemic years, with 8% more deaths this year than the 2015-2019 average. This is something which Barclay attributed to delays in GP appointments, increased ambulance wait-times and a lack of people accessing available care. He added that this observed increase is something which employers could help to address through encouraging their employees to attend regular health check ups and through the NHS increasing their reliance upon at-home testing. He suggested that with the vast advances we are seeing in technology at-home testing could help to flag health problems before systems appear and ultimately improve treatment outcomes.

He said: “I believe the NHS scores the risk of innovation too high when compared to the risk of the status quo. And I think that needs to be recalibrated."

Visit The Times to hear more about what was said

New study predicts a quarter of 17-19-year-olds have a probable mental health condition

A study commissioned by NHS Digital attempted to develop a deeper insight into young people's mental health, surveying the views and experiences of 2,866 young people (aged above 6) from 2017 with follow-ups between 2020-2022. The young people's responses were then classified based on how likely they were to have a mental disorder: unlikely, possible, or probable (without being formally diagnosed by a mental-health specialist).

The survey found a probable mental health disorder in:

  • 18% of 7-16-year-olds

  • Nearly 33% of females and 13% of males aged between 17-24-year-olds

  • Nearly 10% of females and 20% of males aged between 7-16-year-olds

The survey also found that individuals with a probable mental health condition were more likely to self-harm and live in financial hardship - defined as living in a home which struggled to pay bills or put food on the table. The results also suggested that nearly two thirds of people aged between 17-24-years-old have possible eating problems and that teens experiencing these probable mental health issues are more likely to struggle with loneliness (18% affected) and report regular sleep problems.

In response to these findings, minister for Mental Health Maria Caulfield said that £2.3 billion is currently being invested into mental health services - funding which should mean that by 2024 an extra 345,000 young people can access NHS mental health support.

She said: "These figures highlight how important it is that we do everything we can to support our children and young people with their mental health".

Read more at BBC news

Quote of the Week:

Next month (December 15th & 20th), up to 10,000 nurses are scheduled to go on strike to dispute pay, current working conditions and issues of patient safety.

Amidst the continued tensions in discussions between the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) and Health Secretary Steve Barclay a spokesperson from the RCN said: "When the Government would rather send for the military than negotiate with nurses, their priorities are seriously amiss. Today’s reports of striking nurses to be offered hot drinks by the minister shows this has become a patronising case of ‘tea and sympathy’.”

Read the full story at The Guardian

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