Legionnaires’ Probe At Basildon Hospital

(BBC) – AN INVESTIGATION has been started at Basildon University Hospital after two patients were suspected of having contracted the illness.

Tests are now being conducted to discover the source of the suspected outbreak, a hospital spokeswoman said.

Swabs from both the patients, who were staying in different parts of the hospital, have been sent for tests.

The spokeswoman said: “We are investigating two suspected cases of legionnaires’ disease.

“We do lots of testing for legionella in patients who have suspicious respiratory infections.

“We have had problems with the disease before so we are acutely aware of the risk of the bacteria.

“We have particularly high levels of control and are constantly performing checks and taking preventative measures.”

She said the last outbreak of the disease at the hospital was in 2007.

“It is accepted by experts that it is practically impossible to eradicate the legionella bacteria completely on an ongoing basis from large and complex water systems,” she added.

Legionnaires’ disease is a potentially lethal infection that is caused by the bacteria legionella.

The bacteria is commonly found in sources of water such as rivers and lakes; but can sometimes find their way into artificial water supply systems.

It is estimated 10% of people who contract legionnaires’ disease will die from complications arising from infection.

In November, inspectors from the Care Quality Commission criticised Basildon and Thurrock University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust.

Blood stains had been found on floors and curtains and badly soiled mattresses in the A&E department with stains soaked through.

However, on 23 December the watchdog said that hygiene standards were improving and that the trust has taken action to address concerns about infection prevention and control.

NHS Hospitals Pay £146 Per Hour For Temporary Nurses As Agency Costs Soar

(Telegraph) – NHS HOSPITALS have been paying agency nurses, doctors and managers up to £400 an hour to cover staff absences, new figures show.

The cost to the health service of hiring agency staff to work shifts has risen by 60 per cent in the last two years to nearly £1.3 billion.

Figures uncovered by the Conservatives show that one hospital trust was paying agency nurses £146 an hour, the equivalent of an annual salary of £258,000 and around 10 times the rate received by full time staff.

Doctors at another hospital received £375 an hour while managers at a third were paid £400.

On average, employment agencies received a 26 per cent cut of each agency worker’s wages, meaning an estimated £300 million of NHS money was spent on firms which supplied hospitals with agency staff.

The payments were described as “unforgivable” by Andrew Lansley, the shadow health secretary.

Three years ago, and with the bill for temporary staff standing at £786 million, Patricia Hewitt, the then-health secretary, said that it was “common sense” to cut back on agency workers in the NHS.

Since then, however, the charges have risen by nearly half a billion pounds and now cost twice as much as the bill for cancer drugs and nearly as much as the NHS spends on maternity services.

Figures released in response to a series of Freedom of Information requests show that Yeovil District Hospitals Trust paid the highest rate for agency nurses, £146 an hour.

Temporary doctors at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital King’s Lynn NHS Trust received £375 an hour – equivalent to an annual salary of £660,000.

And the Whittington Hospital NHS Trust in north London paid £400 an hour for an information management and technology officer – equivalent to an annual salary of £705,000.

Many of the agency staff were paid at an hourly rate higher than David Nicholson, the NHS chief executive, whose salary last year was £225,000.

More than a third of spending on agency staff went on hiring on managers, administrators and clerical staff while only a fifth was on nurses.

Mr Lansley said: “This is a hugely wasteful way to run the NHS. Only under a Labour Government could an efficiency drive actually result in rising spending on temporary and agency staff.

“It is unforgivable that more than £300 million of taxpayers’ money intended for the NHS is instead going to employment agencies.

“The least we could have expected after all the billions that Labour poured into the NHS was a properly managed workforce. But, as ever, Gordon Brown failed to get taxpayers value for money.”

A spokesman for the Department of Health said: “It is the responsibility of NHS trusts to plan and manage their demand for temporary nursing staff in the context of local business and workforce planning.

“Temporary staff have, and continue to have, a key role in helping the NHS to respond to fluctuations in demand for services and in staff availability.

“Increasing the quality of, and achieving best value for money from temporary staffing is an important aspect of workforce planning in the NHS.”

Burnham Launches Hospital Parking Review

(Independent) – THE NHS HAS NOT GIVEN ENOUGH ATTENTION to hospital car parking charges, Health Secretary Andy Burnham said as he launched a consultation on the issue today.

People will be asked their views on proposals to abolish charges for some out-patients as well as in-patients.

Mr Burnham pledged to phase out car park costs for in-patients over the next three years when he addressed the Labour Party conference in September.

The Health Secretary also said he wanted to introduce parking permits to allow friends and relatives to visit in-patients for free.

The eight-week consultation will ask if free parking should be available for visitors to all in-patients or if it should only become free for friends and relatives of those admitted for a long stay.

It will also suggest options to make parking charges fairer for out-patients.

These include giving access to free parking for those who need to attend a series of appointments or placing a cap on charges for priority out-patient groups who attend regular hospital appointments.

Mr Burnham told GMTV: “I am aware of the strong feelings on the issue and to be honest I don’t think the NHS has given the attention it deserves to this issue because people do feel very strongly about it.

“What I am saying is that people who are going into hospital are often at a low point in their life emotionally or financially.

“The cost of parking can add extra pressure to them so I am saying we need to do more to recognise that and to have fairer parking charges across the NHS.

“The consultation we are launching today is to develop a clear set of principles that we can apply across the system and that is why I want to hear people’s views.”

He said out-patients receiving regular treatment such as chemotherapy or dialysis could face “very serious charges too” and asked for views on both in- and out- patients.

The Health Secretary said he noticed the problems caused by parking costs when his father was in hospital earlier this year.

“It really brought home to me how some people were not getting the number of visits as others were because their family could not afford the charges,” he said. “I am very clear that that is a part of patient care, having regular contact with the family. It can help people recover more quickly.”

Mr Burnham acknowledged it cost the NHS money to run secure car parks in hospitals but said there was a “balance to be struck”.

“It is right that we make sure that the funds that are raised come back to benefit patients,” he added.

“I also believe there are efficiencies that hospitals can make that can make this affordable to them so we’ve thought carefully about it.

“We want to get the balance right.”

Mike Hobday, head of policy at Macmillan Cancer Support, said: “We are delighted that the Government has finally listened to our repeated calls and is now looking at giving free parking for all cancer patients.

“At long last the Westminster Government has acknowledged the high cost to patients and it is time they abolished these charges once and for all in England.

“A recent poll by Macmillan showed that eight out of 10 people want the Government to abolish hospital parking charges for cancer patients.

“Hospitals save £6,000 by delivering a six-week course of radiotherapy on an out-patient basis – money which could, and should, be used to help all cancer patients with the cost of parking.

“We hope that the consultation will result in the lifting of a great financial burden for cancer patients.

“Charging people to visit hospital to receive life-saving treatment has caused needless distress for far too long and is nothing more than a tax on illness.”

The average charge for hospital car parking per hour in England in 2008/9 was £1.09.

All trusts are expected to have concessionary schemes to offer reduced price or free parking for patients who visit hospital regularly and the trusts are responsible for ensuring that eligible patients are aware of concessions.

The Department of Health consultation will close on 23 February next year.

A Migrant A Minute Registers With GPs

(Daily Mail) – IMMIGRANTS are registering with a GP for free healthcare at a rate of more than one every minute, it was revealed last night.

Analysis of NHS research shows that 605,000 people who arrived from overseas registered with a doctor in England and Wales last year – up by 50 per cent in only seven years.

Campaigners say this places a significant ‘strain’ on services and could force patients to wait longer for appointments and treatment.

While the number of GPs has increased over the past seven years it has not kept pace with the increase in registrations.

The Tories said the GP figures were yet another example of why a cap is needed on migrant numbers.

It is the first time statisticians have examined NHS data on the number of registrations made by people previously living overseas.

Of the total, 536,000 were migrants who – under Government rules – were entitled to free care.

Others are Britons returning from a stint overseas, but there are fears a proportion of the remainder are illegal immigrants taking advantage of free NHS care.

Sir Andrew Green, chairman of MigrationWatch, which compiled the report, said: ‘This amounts to an open door to primary care which can also lead to access to secondary care.

‘The Government has been dithering while the NHS has been struggling to cope with the extra numbers resulting from mass immigration.

‘In present financial circumstances it is surely obvious that we do not have the resources to cope with the extra ten million people now officially projected over the next 25 years – seven million as a result of immigration.’

There are currently no checks on the entitlement of those who seek to register with a GP.

Instead, doctors have discretion to register whoever they choose.

Ministers carried out a review of access to healthcare, which could have led to overseas visitors being barred from receiving some treatments.

But, five years after the review was commissioned, the Department of Health said it would maintain the status quo.

Many of those registering for treatment are from Eastern Europe.

Doctors have reported an increase in women from the former Eastern Bloc seeking maternity services.

However, they also stress most incoming Eastern Europeans are young and in good health.

There are 34,101 GPs in England and Wales. Earlier this month, doctors said more GPs were needed to offer patients the 20 minute appointments which many need.

Dr Richard Fieldhouse, of The National Association of Sessional GPs, said one issue was that many of the newly registered immigrants spoke little or no English adding to appointment times.

He said: ‘We have to draw diagrams. It takes probably 25 to 30 minutes. We want to do everything we can for them.’

A British Medical Association spokesman said: ‘Doctors’ primary concern is for patients’ clinical need. If people are in the UK legitimately then they have a right to healthcare and there should be adequate resources in place to provide this.’

But Matthew Elliott, of the TaxPayers’ Alliance, said: ‘It is clearly unacceptable that someone who has paid for the NHS throughout their working life should face delays or queues as a result of recent immigration.’

The Department of Health said last night: ‘Access to a GP can have both public health and cost benefits. It is better and cheaper for a GP to treat a patient at an early stage rather than risk an emergency hospital admission when a condition becomes acute.’

More People Could Have ‘Mad Cow’ Disease Than Previously Thought

(Guardian) – MORE PEOPLE MAY BE INCUBATING VARIANT CJD, the human version of so-called “mad cow disease”, than was previously thought, according to scientists who today report an unusual case of the disease. All those tested worldwide since 1994 when the first cases were identified have been MM homozygous.

However, a 30-year-old man who died of vCJD in January this year was found to have a different genetic makeup from the rest of the 200 or so people diagnosed around the world, and identified as MV heterozygous.

Six months before the man was diagnosed with the disease, he had been admitted to hospital suffering from personality changes, unsteadiness in walking that became progressively worse, and intellectual decline. He told doctors he had severe leg pain and memory problems. Two months later, he developed visual hallucinations. The symptoms got progressively worse and an MRI scan confirmed vCJD .

Doctors from the MRC Prion Unit and National Prion Clinic at the UCL Institute of Neurology, and the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery in London,, report the unusual case in today’s Lancet medical journal.

The observation could be of concern. In some other human prion diseases, such as kuru – thought to be linked to cannibalism in Papua New Guinea – people who are MV heterozygous have incubated the disease for longer than those who are MM homozygous before symptoms have shown. Some MV heterozygous patients are reported to have incubated kuru for over 50 years.

It is possible, doctors say, that vCJD takes longer to develop in people who are MV heterozygous than in MV homozygous people.

“The majority of the UK population have potentially been exposed to BSE prions but the extent of clinically silent infection remains unclear,” say the authors of the paper. About a third of the population have the MM homozygous genotype – and until now all the cases came from this group. If individuals with other genotypes are similarly susceptible to developing prion disease after exposure to BSE, further cases would be expected, they say.

However, they add, it is possible that susceptibility to vCJD and incubation period may be influenced by other genetic factors which have not yet been identified.

Variant CJD is caused by prions, infectious agents which are made up mainly of proteins. The same prions also cause BSE – bovine spongiform encephalopathy – which was dubbed “mad cow disease” because cattle who contracted it staggered when they tried to walk.

Prion diseases affect the structure of the brain or other neural tissue, and are currently untreatable and fatal.

Anti-Drinking Movie Banned By YouTube

(BBC) – A VIDEO FILMED BY DERBYSHIRE HEALTH CHIEFS aimed at shocking young people into drinking less has been banned by YouTube for being too graphic.

The Bloody Mary video, which shows a teenage girl urinating in the street as she is jeered at, was removed from the internet site following complaints.

NHS officials said they realised some people may find the film controversial.

They said it aimed to use “dark humour” to get across the dangers of excessive drinking at Christmas.

A YouTube spokesperson said: “YouTube’s rules prohibit content like pornography or gratuitous violence.

“When people see content that they think is inappropriate they can flag it and our staff then review it.

“If the content breaks our terms then we remove it and if a user repeatedly breaks the rules we disable their account.”

The two-minute clip, which featured professional actors, was one of two filmed by Derbyshire County Primary Care Trust in Chesterfield Market Place.

The second film, entitled Tequila Slammer, shows a drunken man in fancy dress being run over by a car.

Bloody Mary received 15,000 hits in the eight days in was on YouTube and was also distributed to local media as part of a £25,000 ‘Cocktales’ campaign to highlight the dangers of drink to 18 to 24-year-olds.

The county has more alcohol-related hospital cases than the UK average.

Last year saw 15,000 alcohol-related admissions to hospitals in Derbyshire, costing £3.7m in total.

The 18 to 24 age group represented £162,000 of the figure.

Alison Pritchard, from the PCT, said: “This video does have a dark humour in it designed to capture the imagination and show what can happen if you overstep the mark on a night out.

“It has been banned from YouTube because of its content, which we realise some people may find controversial.

“We want people to think about the main messages of safe drinking and use the information to make informed choices on their nights out, particularly around the Christmas period.”

Carrie Whitton, 22, plays the girl who falls over after urinating in the street.

She said: “There’s a real culture in Chesterfield, like in many towns and cities across the UK, to go out, move from bar to bar and get drunk.

“I’ve seen lads having fights, girls weeing in the street or just falling over on the cobbles in the centre.”

[Both videos can be seen here.]

David Cameron Sparks Row Over New Care Plans

(Telegraph) – THE CONSERVATIVES SPARKED A BITTER POLITICAL ROW last night by claiming two million pensioners would lose out under new Labour plans to reform the system of elderly care.

David Cameron seized on the Government’s Queen’s Speech proposals which ministers maintain will help 300,000 pensioners get free personal care at home.

The Conservative leader warned that establishing a national care service, which Gordon Brown announced in his party conference speech, would mean scrapping the attendance allowance and the disability living allowance.

The Tories claimed that up to 2.4 million pensioners would lose around £60-a-week — the equivalent of more than £3,000 a year — which in some cases could be as much as a quarter of their income.

Mr Cameron said: ‘It is a good idea to help people in their homes but the Prime Minister appears to be proposing to abolish these benefits that people rely on.’

The Tories claimed the money the Government saved on not paying the benefits would be used to fund the £670 million costs of the new scheme, which is designed to provide free home care for 280,000 elderly and disabled people who need help to carry out basic functions such as dressing, getting out of bed and using the lavatory.

Another 130,000 frail patients are to receive support on leaving hospital, with improvements such as grab rails and panic buttons. At the moment, home care is means tested so that anyone with savings of more than £23,000 has to pay for care. Under the new scheme, people will qualify on the basis of need.

The Conservatives point to comments by Andy Burnham, the Health Secretary, in July in which he said ‘the costs of care can be better spent by combining investment in social care with disability benefits, particularly attendance allowance.’

However, Mr Burnham, reacted furiously to the Conservative claim that benefits for the elderly would have to be cut to pay for it and accused Mr Cameron of scaremongering and ‘gutter politics.’ He insisted that the cost of his plans would be met from within the Department of Health’s budget.

He told the BBC’s World at One: ‘It is really gutter politics to raise concerns among some of the most vulnerable people in our society that their benefits will be cut. This suggestion — I just find it offensive.

‘It is possible that we could reform attendance allowance as part of our plans for a national care service. That is a proposal on which we are consulting in our green paper.

‘But let me also be clear, we have said that anybody who is in receipt of those benefits would get an equivalent level of support.’

However, Mr Burnham also faced stinging criticism from his own side when Lord Lipsey, a former member of the Royal Commission on Long-Term Care, accused ministers of pre-empting the consultation process that was still under way on future care provision.

The veteran Labour peer said: ‘In the middle of the consultation on that, in one of the most disorderly pieces of government I have ever seen in 40 years of political life, the Prime Minister has declared that it is Government policy that people with severe care needs in their own home should be paid for in full.

‘I think that is a bad policy but I think it is also a bad way to do policy just to find a nice highlight for your Labour Party conference speech. I am afraid that what has happened is that into this very complicated but important policy process, has been injected something that is just a bit of a gimmick.’

In the face of the attack from both a respected Labour peer and the Conservatives, the Prime Minister was forced to defend the policy.

Speaking on ITV’s This Morning Mr Brown said: ‘This is a major breakthrough because for the first time people of whatever income, so we don’t need a means test on this, if you have got special and urgent needs…we will help you stay in your own home and you will not have to go into institutional care by providing not just medical care but providing the home help care and the help with clothes and cooking and cleaning and everything else.’