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This week's Friday Five: 6/1/23

Millions of Brits to join ground-breaking genomics project

The launch of a new genomics project means that millions of people in Britain will have their DNA analysed - a project which is expected to position the UK as a world leader in genomics. This research forms part of a NHS and private sector project called Our Future Health, in which scientists are hoping to formulate the genetic profiles of 5 million adults which can be linked to general health records alongside height, weight and lifestyle information. Researchers hope that this integration will provide a deeper understanding of the initial stages of disease, before symptoms start.

This project comes after last month's launch of the Newborn Genomes Programme by Genomics England, a publicly owned company with NHS partnerships, which aims to analyse the DNA of 100,000 babies. Professor Sir Mark Caulfield of Queen Mary University of London highlighted that the primary goal of the Newborn Genomes Programme is to detect rare disorders for which there are pre-existing treatments. Researchers hope that this approach will allow for earlier intervention and reduce the potential harm/disability that these known conditions cause.

He said: " “It turns out that approximately 1 in 190 births — [roughly] 10 babies born every day in the UK — has one of these problems, and if the intervention is employed, this could be life changing.”

Read more at The Times

Winter projected to be the worst ever for A&E waits

The Royal College of Emergency Medicine have warned that they faced the worst December for emergency care delays and hospital bed occupancy following higher than anticipated winter illnesses including flu, Covid and Strep A cases. Health leaders have also warned that the NHS is facing the worst winter for A&E wait times with a number of NHS trusts having already declared critical incidents as they struggle with staffing retention issues and increased patient demand. In England, the latest figures highlight that current hospitalisations are weighted more towards flu infections. Last week there were more than 3,700 patients in hospitals each day with the flu, figures which have increased from 520 the previous month and from only 34 a day this time last year.

A spokesperson from the Department of Health and Social Care provides more insight into this worsening situation. They said: "We recognise the pressures the NHS is facing following the impact of the pandemic and are working tirelessly to ensure people get the care they need, backed by up to £14.1bn additional funding for health and social care over the next two years."

Read more at BBC News

NHS data signals an increase in children with serious mental health problems

New NHS data highlights a dramatic increase in the number of children requiring treatment for serious mental health conditions. Over the last year there has been a 39% increase in NHS mental health referrals for under 18s as figures have increased from 839,570 in 2020/21 up to 1,169,515 in 2021/22.

NHS Digital data also highlighted that hospital admissions for eating disorders are increasing among children and young people. In 2021/22 there were 7,719 admissions for under 18s, up from 4,232 in 2019/20 - signalling an 82% increase over the two years. The data suggests 2022/23 could see the highest number of hospital admissions for eating disorders for people of all ages. A spokesperson from the Department of Health and Social Care (in response to these figures) said that improving eating disorder support is a key priority of 2023. To achieve this £53 million will be invested annually to improve children and young people's community eating disorder services, funding which aims to increase capacity in 70 community teams across the country.

Dr Elaine Lockhart, chairwoman of the child and adolescent psychiatry faculty at the Royal College of Psychiatrists argued that the referral increases highlighted by NHS Digital reflect a wide range of illnesses and that more specialist services are required to help individuals who are the most unwell.

She said: "I think what's frustrating for us is if we could see them more quickly and intervene, then the difficulties might not become as severe as they do because they've had to wait."

Read more at Sky News

New proton beam therapy trial for breast cancer patients

A new NHS trial has begun which seeks to explore whether proton beam therapy can help individuals with breast cancer. This trial, which is being led by researchers at the Institute of Cancer Research, the Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust and the University of Cambridge, is the first study in the world to compare this new therapeutic intervention against standard radiotherapy.

The treatment will be trialled by 192 cancer patients with a higher risk of long-term heart problems (qualified as a 2% or more lifetime risk). This is because while radiotherapy remains an effective treatment offered annually to 30,000 UK breast cancer patients, as the breast tissue and lymph nodes targeted during treatment are close to the heart standard radiotherapy can result in future heart problems. Instead, the proton beam therapy which uses charged particles as opposed to X-rays, offers an approach which researchers hope will lower radiation and ensure more specialised targeting of cancer cells. Throughout the trial researchers will measure the levels of radiation delivered to the heart and patients will record their experiences.

Radiotherapy lead for the study Dr Anna Kirby discussed the significance of this new trial. She said: "We hope that the Parable trial will help us to further personalise radiotherapy treatments and ensure that people can access the radiotherapy approach that is best for them, regardless of where they live."

Read more at BBC News

Quote of the week

As flu, Covid and Strep A cases continue to rise, increased concerns are being voiced over increasing wait times in accident and emergency departments. To help combat the mounting pressure healthcare services are facing guidance has been issued by the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) ahead of pupils returning to school this week.

Professor Susan Hopkins Chief medical adviser at the UKHSA said: "If your child is unwell and has a fever, they should stay home from school or nursery until they feel better and the fever has resolved. Adults should also try to stay home when unwell and if you do have to go out, wear a face covering.”

Read more at The Telegraph


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