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Hospital surveys; genetic predisposition to mental illness; skin cancer; and access to unlicensed experimental drugs

Monday, 15 April 2013


A report from pollsters Ipsos Mori has highlighted a lack of interest among both staff and patients in prime minister David Cameron's "friends and family" satisfaction survey of hospitals, reported The Observer (p6) on Sunday.

According to The Observer, the Ipsos report also flagged-up widespread concerns that the methodology subsequently selected by the government for the survey would be misleading and suggested that it should be shelved.

The way the "friends and family" survey is drawn up has raised fears that the new scheme is being used to undermine NHS hospitals just as the public are being offered the chance to choose a private provider for operations, The Observer claimed.

Shadow health secretary Andy Burnham remarked that if there was even "the merest whiff of political manipulation", then patient and staff confidence in NHS targets would disappear.

A health department spokesman defended the differentiation needed for the test, noting that a number of pieces of research were drawn on to inform the test and that a balance had to be made between a simple scoring method and one that was "not so simple that it failed to expose variation".


Scientists have identified a group of patients with a genetic predisposition to mental illness, creating for the first time the prospect of personalised medicine in psychiatry, reported The Independent (p24) on Saturday.

The Independent explained that personalised medicine involves selecting groups of patients whose genes make them susceptible to certain diseases and responsive to specific drugs.

The University College London study of 1,000 patients with bipolar disorder found that 1.7% carried a mutation in an important brain receptor gene, putting them at increased risk of the disease, said The Independent.

The newspaper stressed that the findings suggest that patients with the mutation could be treated with existing drugs, which are not currently used for bipolar disorder.

UCL molecular psychiatry professor Hugh Gurling told The Independent that looking at the underlying genetics of the disease meant that psychiatrists could predict who would respond to different drugs. Two drugs trialled for schizophrenia and anxiety disorder could be effective in bipolar disorder, he added.


New research has revealed an 80% increase in the number of cases of skin cancer which are treated by surgery alone. However, the doctors who ran the study have warned that official government skin cancer figures grossly underestimate the prevalence of the disease, reported The Independent on Sunday (p6).

The Independent on Sunday described how the study by doctors from Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital NHS Foundation Trust and Eastern Cancer Registration Centre, Cambridge, showed that more than 200,000 basal cell skin cancers were treated with surgery a year, meaning that skin cancer is almost as prevalent as all other cancers put together. The Independent estimated this amounted to a 200million pounds a year financial burden for the NHS.

A consultant dermatologist from Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals NHS Trust commented that dermatologists are seeing an increase in the number of skin cancer cases but that the real challenge was that numbers are expected to increase yet further.


A collection of leading medical experts is spearheading a campaign to give the terminally ill access to unlicensed experimental drugs, reported The Sunday Times (p14).

The Right to Try campaign, inspired by wealthy entrepreneur Les Halpin, who suffers from motor neurone disease, aims to win the right for the terminally ill to become trial participants for unlicensed treatments, The Sunday Times said.

The so-called Halpin protocol would see patients waive their rights to sue doctors and pharmaceutical groups in return for being prescribed experimental drugs. Irrespective of the outcome, drug firms would be obliged to make the trial test results public to aid the search for a cure, according to the newspaper.

Supporters of Halpin's campaign, which begins today, include Baroness Finlay, former president of the Royal Society of Medicine, Stephen Whitehead, chief executive of the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry and professor Sir Peter Lachmann, emeritus professor of immunology at Cambridge and former president of the UK Academy of Medical Sciences and the Royal College of Pathologists.

It is believed that the Halpin protocol could be amalgamated with Lord Saatchi's proposed Medical Innovation Bill, which was recently introduced to the House of Lords, and could become law within two years. In essence, the bill proposes that doctors be permitted to practice "responsible innovation" by using experimental treatments approved by a multi-disciplinary team at their hospital and overseen by one doctor, The Sunday Times explained.

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