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This Week's Friday Five 31/3/23

Public satisfaction with the NHS is at a record low

The long-running British Social Attitudes survey finds that public satisfaction with NHS services is at its lowest levels. The survey, which is the gold standard for assessing the public's view of the health service, found that only 29% of people reported being satisfied with the services provided by the NHS in 2022. Factors including long waiting times and worries over staff shortages were reported as the biggest concerns among those surveyed. These satisfaction rates were 7% lower than the previous year and a drop from the 2010 high of 70%. This decrease in overall satisfaction was observed across all age groups, income bands, sexes and supporters of different political parties.

Among all departments, A&E services had the biggest drop in satisfaction. However, satisfaction levels across all services including GPs, dentistry and general hospital care had fallen. When looking at the aspects of the NHS the public valued most, the survey revealed that healthcare being free at the point of use and the quality of care provided came out on top.

The survey findings were published by the Nuffield Trust and King's Fund think-tanks which sponsor the health questions. Discussing these findings, Dan Wellings, senior fellow at the King's Fund, said: "It is easy to become desensitised to the relentless flow of bad news about struggling health services, but we cannot underestimate the significance of the unprecedented results. These stark findings should act as a wake-up call to those in power."

Read more at BBC News

NHS reduces elective and cancer patient wait times

On Monday, it was revealed that the number of people waiting over 18 months to receive NHS care has fallen despite continued demand for services. The latest figures show that as of the 19th of March, a total of 20,101 patients were waiting over 18 months for treatment. These figures were down from 123,969 patients in September 2021 - highlighting a reduction of over four-fifths since the peak. In the last month alone, elective waits of over 18 months have reduced by 45%.

The number of people waiting over two months (62 days) from their cancer referral has also fallen from the previous month, reducing from 23,874 patients on the 19th of Feb to 19,029 on the 19th of March.

Discussing these findings, NHS National Elective Recovery Director, Sir James Mackey said: “It is testament to the joined-up working across the NHS, with colleagues pulling together and widespread innovative measures being rolled out by trusts, that we have been able to cut the longest waits for patients."

Read more at NHS England

New cervical cancer drug available through the Cancer Drugs Fund

An estimated 400 people with advanced cervical cancer will benefit from access to the cervical cancer drug Pembrolizumab through the Cancer Drugs Fund (CDF). Initial results from clinical trials show that people taking this drug have more time before their cancer worsens than people receiving standard care. Initial results also suggest that cancer patients taking this drug may live longer overall.

However, as the trial is still in its earlier stages it is difficult to quantify the true effects of this medication. Consequently, the NICE committee is yet to establish if this new cancer treatment is cost-effective. Until new data is collected to assess its clinical effectiveness the CDF will cover the treatment cost, providing patients with faster access to this promising new medication.

Discussing this, Health Minister Helen Whately said: "Today is a win for women, offering the hope of more precious time with loved ones. We are committed to providing world-class cancer care to patients and always working to find trailblazing, new treatments. This has been made possible by the government’s £340 million Cancer Drugs Fund, which has helped thousands of patients to benefit from rapid access to promising new cancer treatments.”

Read more at NICE

New blood test could spare bowel cancer patients chemotherapy

A new blood test is expected to prevent bowel cancer patients from undergoing unnecessary chemotherapy every year. This research forms part of a new TRACC study involving the Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust in London. Most stage 3 bowel cancer patients are given post-operative chemotherapy, however, doctors suggest that this may be unnecessary for many people with the disease, with around half of patients being successfully treated through surgery alone.

Through trialling these new blood tests, this study hopes to identify traces of cancer in the blood. These traces are normally invisible on scans but would be used as markers to indicate to doctors whether surgery had been successful. Over the next 4 years, around 1,600 UK patients are expected to take part in this study which could affect the way thousands of cancer patients are treated.

Discussing the impact of this trial, Dr Naureen Starling, the principal investigator of this research said: "Half of patients with stage 3 bowel cancer are cured by surgery alone, so we are over-treating a large proportion of patients." She described this new blood test as: “good for the patient, it’s good for the health service, it’s good for cost savings within the NHS. That would be a win-win.”

Read more at The Independent

Quote of the week

Agencies that provide freelance staff to the NHS to fill in for staff shortages have seen their income increase by tens of millions of pounds since 2019. A BBC News analysis of financial records found that two of the biggest companies providing NHS staff had their revenue increase by 80% and 77.5%, adding fuel to growing debates over the role of staffing agencies across the NHS.

Discussing the NHS's increased reliance on agency staff a spokesperson from the Department of Health and Social Care said: "While temporary staffing allows the NHS to meet fluctuations in demand, we are controlling spending by capping hourly pay, prioritising NHS staff when shifts need filling and hiring agency staff through approved NHS frameworks to ensure value for money. We will soon publish a long-term workforce plan to ensure we have the right numbers of staff, with the right skills to deliver high-quality services fit for the future."

Read more at BBC News


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