This site is intended for health professionals only

Media Watch: an irreverent look at some of the biggest health stories

by Léa Legraien
24 December 2018

Share this article

Léa Legraien takes an irreverent look at some of the biggest health stories in the media
Prevention is better than cuts
The saying ‘prevention is better than cure’ is well-known, but it can be misinterpreted.
In November, health and social care secretary Matt Hancock announced that prevention will be central to his long-term plan for the NHS. After all, two of the greatest health initiatives – mass vaccination and smoking cessation services – had ‘prevention at their core’, Mr Hancock said.
According to the Government, 60% (£97bn) of public funding is spent on treating disease in the UK, while just 5% (£8bn) is dedicated to preventing it.
So under the health secretary’s prevention plan ‘greater spending’ is needed. But it seems that the Government didn’t think preventively when it cut public health funding in recent years, a move that prompted some local authorities to reduce their spending on key health services, such as smoking cessation.
As the BMA has said, cuts to frontline services are likely to have a detrimental impact on population health, increasing future demand for Treatment services. See the irony here?
Ye olde NHS
According to the Royal College of Physicians (RCP), the concept of patient referrals to hospital dates back to the 18th century.
In a report published in early November, the doctors’ representative body explained that primary care started referring patients to hospital to protect the income of GPs, then known as family doctors.
This introduced more fairness into the system, as the wealthy were abusing free healthcare destined for the poorest, the RCP report said.
Acting as a gatekeeper, the family doctor could then appropriately refer patients to hospital, tackling high attendance rates.
Three centuries or so later, not much has changed, since more than 50% of current outpatient referrals are made through general practice.
Backing the report, NHS England medical director Professor Stephen Powis argued that outpatient appointments should be in the interest of clinicians rather than patients.
‘The outpatient system is older than the NHS and the time has come to grasp the nettle and use tech and other innovations to improve patients’ experience and care,’ he said.
Luckily, it only took three hundred years to realise this.
More supply for more waste?
In 2011, the then Department of Health estimated that unused medicines cost the NHS £300m a year, of which at least half was deemed avoidable.
Lord Earl Howe, who was health minister at the time, said that ‘by reducing medicine wastage the NHSwill save money that can be spent in other areas’.
Seven years later, you might think that the issue would have been tackled. But hold your horses.
Last month, NHS England revealed that the availability of the adjuvanted trivalent inactivated flu vaccine for the over-65s will exceed the anticipated demand for this year’s flu season.
Supplier Seqirus confirmed that 8.5 million vaccines would be delivered in England by mid-November – out of a total of 9.8 million doses across the UK.
This is great, but knowing that every unused dose ends up in medical waste – as vaccines cannot be used beyond their expiry date – it means that any out-of-date leftovers will be disposed of at the end of the season.
Public Health England estimated that the vaccine has the potential to cut GP consultations by 30,000, hospitalisations by more than 2,000 and prevent 700 hospital deaths in England alone.
But if uptake for 2018/19 turns out to be similar to last year’s, with around 7.4 million of the over-65s having the jab, a non-negligible amount of vaccines will be left unused, increasing wastage.