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Health and care sector latest developments

Latest developments affecting the health and care sector.

19 July 2024

IT outages hit thousands of services

Thousands of GP practices – and some other localised services – are without their IT systems today, due to global outages also affecting banking, media and aviation.

All EMIS GP IT systems, which are used by more than half of the approximate 8,000 GP practices in England, were down. It was leaving many practices unable to book appointments or consult with patients first thing on Friday morning.

Patient-facing digital services linked to EMIS also appeared to be down, such as records access via the NHS app. The National Pharmacy Association said some community pharmacy services were down – such as 'accessing of prescriptions from GPs and medicine deliveries' were disrupted. It’s unclear if that is also caused by EMIS, or other systems.

Some systems in other services including hospitals have also suffered outages caused by the issue, but they appear to be localised. Salisbury in the South West, and the Christie in Manchester, reported issues.  

RLDatix, formally known as Allocate, confirmed that its rostering software, used by about nine in ten trusts, was affected. It said short-term recruitment of bank and agency staff was the main problem and it was helping customers 'run the manual back-up processes needed' to fill shifts.

Clinisys – a pathology lab information company whose WinPath software is widely used in the acute sector – was affected in some areas. The company said two trusts had been in touch because the outage had affected supporting software, although there were signs it was beginning to be restored about 10am.

DHSC PPSs appointed

Last night, health secretary Wes Streeting announced the two MPs joining the Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC) team as parliamentary private secretaries.

Ashley Dalton has been appointed parliamentary private secretary (PPS) to Wes Streeting. A former local government official and trade unionist, Dalton has previously talked about recovering from breast cancer and has volunteered for Macmillan Cancer Support.

Dr Zubir Ahmed has been made PPS to the DHSC team. A transplant and vascular specialist in Glasgow, Dr Ahmed has spent 20 years working as a surgeon.

AI could solve ‘disgraceful’ structural problems, says minister

Artificial intelligence could be used to figure out the causes of 'disgraceful' structural problems like the higher rates of maternal mortality for black women, a minister told a conference yesterday.

Health minister Karin Smyth said AI could be used not only for clinical and administrative functions but for “diagnoses”. She also said the way government funded AI adoption needed to change.

Ms Smyth, a former NHS manager, was giving her first speech as a minister at a Health Foundation conference on AI.  During her address, Ms Smyth said: “AI can start to spot patterns that the human eye is blind to.” Analysing the complex, multifactorial issues like this “could be some of the outputs of a new system”, she said.

Ms Smyth said the way the government funded AI adoption “must change” to create “clearer routes for innovators where they can make the biggest difference for patients”.

But she cautioned delegates at the AI in the NHS conference that this was “not about re-organising the health service around AI”.

“I will not be satisfied until I start hearing from staff about how AI has made their lives easier,” she added, saying she was aware that staff could become frustrated with people at the centre making big promises about technology when their own daily experience with IT was exasperating.

5,000 early career nursing staff quit profession in one year

One in five nursing and midwifery professionals who left the register last year did so within ten years of joining, according to the Nursing and Midwifery Council's (NMC) annual report.

Nursing leaders are calling for urgent action to make nursing a more attractive career, describing the statistic as "deeply alarming." The report shows that 27,168 staff left the profession between April 2023 and March 2024, a slight decrease from the previous year.

It found retirement, poor health and burnout were the top three reasons why staff left. Of the leavers, 49 per cent said they left the profession earlier than expected. The proportion of staff likely to return to a career in nursing or midwifery remained low at 8 per cent, although one in three said they would consider working outside the UK.

Responding to the annual registration report, NHS Employers chief executive said Danny Mortimer said “these figures a continued rise in the numbers of both UK and internationally trained nurses and midwives joining the register” but called the one in five figure “worrying” which means “we are losing invaluable experience” of people cutting short their careers in the NHS.

One in five NHS operations outsourced to private sector

Quarterly NHS data analysis from the Independent Healthcare Providers Network has revealed that 20 per cent of NHS operations are now outsourced to private hospitals, up from 12 per cent in 2019.

Patients treated by private providers experienced shorter waiting times, averaging under 13 weeks, compared to 18 weeks for those treated within the NHS. Labour has indicated plans to further utilize the private sector to tackle these backlogs.

Review finds 418 ‘unnatural, unexpected fatalities’ linked to troubled trust

A troubled mental health trust’s internal mortality review has concluded 418 of an estimated 12,503 patient deaths over a four-and-a-half year period were 'unexpected and unnatural'.

Norfolk and Suffolk Foundation Trust’s leaders said the findings showed there had been a “much, much smaller” number of avoidable deaths than had been implied by previous reviews and reported by the media in the past.

But the review’s findings were swiftly dismissed by campaigners, who said they had “no confidence” in the new figures, accused the trust of “corporate gaslighting” and renewed calls for a statutory public inquiry.

Flu vaccine progress could protect against future pandemics

Following a major breakthrough, scientists now believe that a single-shot flu vaccine, which would provide lifetime protection against all mutations, could become available within five years.

Researchers were able to create a vaccine which could target the Spanish influenza strain which caused a global pandemic in the late 1910s; this vaccine was simultaneously effective against a 21st-century bird flu strain.

Vaccines currently target the spike proteins of a virus which mutate significantly over time. The vaccine developed by the researchers targets the internal proteins of a virus instead, which display very little change in comparison.

Councils call for further delay to social care costs cap

The County Councils Network (CCN) has warned that plans to introduce a cap on social care costs in October 2025, limiting lifetime contributions to £86,000, must be delayed due to funding and staffing shortages.

The CCN urged health secretary Wes Streeting to reconsider, warning that without a multibillion-pound cash injection, some councils could face bankruptcy. Councils are struggling to hire enough care workers, with 131,000 vacancies and a predicted need for over 400,000 additional staff in the next decade.

Halt disability benefit changes, charities say

Leading disability charities have urged the government to pause Conservative plans for "worrying" and "dangerous" changes to disability benefits.

The previous government opened a public consultation into a major overhaul of Personal Independence Payments (PIP), which could involve replacing monthly cash payments with a vouchers system or one-off grants towards particular costs.

But charities say that replacing regular cash payments would create further barriers to support, risking pushing more disabled people into poverty.

New Work and Pensions Secretary Liz Kendall has not said whether she supports or opposes the thrust of her Tory predecessor’s proposals, but has kept the consultation open.

UK government debt highest since 1962

The UK's national debt has reached its highest level since 1962, according to new official figures.

The total stock of government debt was worth 99.5 per cent of the value of the economy in June, exceeding the highs reached during the coronavirus pandemic for the first time.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) figures also showed that the amount the government borrowed was more than expected in June.

A statement on the state of the public finances is expected from the Chancellor, Rachel Reeves, by the end of the month.