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This week's Friday Five: 3/3/23

New research finds NHS COVID-19 app saved thousands of lives

Research from the University of Oxford and Warwick evaluated the effectiveness of the NHS’s COVID-19 app. It found that in the first year alone (September 2021-2022), the app prevented approximately one million COVID-19 cases, 44 hospitalisations and 9,600 deaths. The results from the study showed that the utility of the app increased over time as rapid testing was more widely used, helping to reduce transmission and infection.

Discussing the impact of this research, Professor Christophe Fraser, author of this paper and investigator at the Pandemic Sciences Institute at the University of Oxford said:

“We find that digital contact tracing, a relatively low-cost and rapidly available intervention is a valuable public health measure for reducing transmission in any future epidemic waves of COVID-19 or similar viruses."

Read the fully study here or access a summary here

A patient dies every 23 minutes in England after long A&E delays

An analysis of NHS figures by emergency care doctors finds that on average every 23 minutes a patient dies following long delays in A&E. The Royal College of Emergency Medicine (RCEM) using figures obtained from NHS England using freedom of information laws finds that 23,003 people died in 2022 after waiting over 12 hours to be admitted into A&E - equating to roughly one every 23 minutes or 1,917 per month.

While these figures are alarming, the college highlighted that this is not a surprise as emergency departments continue to stay overwhelmed and unable to locate spare beds. Discussing the impact of these delays Dr Adrian Boyle, president of the RCEM said; "Long waiting times are associated with serious patient harm and patient deaths. The scale shown here is deeply distressing."

He added that to help streamline patient admission more staff, beds and hospital space is required. He urged ministers to take action to improve social care and increase hospital discharge among patients who do not meet the criteria to reside.

Read more at the Guardian

New rare disease action plan to address health inequalities

This week, the Department of Health and Social Care released the England Rare Diseases Action Plan 2023 to help support those living with rare diseases. This plan aims to build on last year's progress to ensure that people living with these diseases can access specialised care, treatment and support across services including fairer access to testing.

Over the last year, 1,000 new complex diagnoses have been provided to people with rare diseases due to genomic research advances. In the new plan it is highlighted that increased evidence will be taken on health inequalities from people living with rare diseases so they can receive more targeted support from health services. The plan also strives to increase data sharing to provide a better insight into how people are accessing genetic testing across England - an intervention they hope will aid faster diagnosis.

Discussing these changes Health Minister Helen Whately said: "Rare diseases are individually rare but collectively common, affecting 3.5 million people in the UK. We’ve made huge progress in the last year, making 1,000 complex new diagnoses thanks to advances in genomic research.But there is still more to do. Our Rare Diseases Action Plan will reduce health inequalities, help people participate in research and join up specialist services better for patients."

Read more at GOV UK

Dozens of tech promises missed by Government

HSJ reports that the Government has failed to meet many of its deadlines for commitments to improve the NHS data use. In 2022, the Department of Health and Social Care published its Data Saves Lives strategy which explored how NHS data could be used to improve healthcare and research. The strategy, which included over 100 commitments, were to be delivered between 2022 and 2025.

However, HSJ reports that only around a third of the commitments due to be delivered by the end of 2022 have been met. Key missed commitments include working out how patient data is stored and analysed securely, agreeing national strategies for cyber security and cloud technology and developing a roadmap for providing a secure data environment throughout the NHS.

A spokesperson for the DHSC responded to these claims highlighting that despite these delays, good progress has been make on meeting these commitments. He said: “Work is continuing on those [commitments] in progress. The NHS is investing significant sums into the priorities set out in the strategy – from supporting hospitals to adopt electronic patient record systems and encourage greater data sharing between trusts, which will boost efficiency, enhance service quality and improve health outcomes.”

Read more at HSJ

Quote of the week

Earlier this month, the lead council to the Government Covid inquiry which examines the UK's preparedness to the Covid pandemic confirmed that it was not planning on evaluating the presence of structural racism in the first module of inquiry. During the pandemic it was shown that white British people were less likely to die from Covid than almost all minority ethnic groups. Campaigners, including the group Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice and race equality think tank Runnymed calls for this to change and for racism to be placed at the forefront of these inquiries.

Lobby Akinnola, whose father, Femi, died from Covid in 2020 at the age of 60, argues that race was a factor directly responsible for his father's death, saying: "Racism is pervasive in every aspect of life. My dad really highlights why it's so important to look at this as a systemic and structural problem, because he did everything right. He was going to work with his winter gloves and scarves as makeshift PPE. There's nothing more this man could have done to try and stay alive."

Read more at BBC News

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