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News digest – NHS staff shortages, HPV vaccine in Rwanda, prostate cancer guidelines and sunscreen chemicals

by Ethan Meyers | Analysis

11 May 2019

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A photo of three nurses.

Brexit is exacerbating NHS nurse crisis

The number of NHS nurses and midwives from the EU has dropped from just over 38,000 in 2017 to 33,000 in 2019, according to figures from the Nursing and Midwifery Council. That’s drop of almost 5,000 nurses in 2 years. And over half of those leaving said Brexit had played a role in their decision. On the other hand, the figures show a big rise in the number of nurses and midwives coming into the UK to work from outside of the EU, increasing by 126% in the last year. The Guardian has the story.

In a Government strategy leaked to the Times (£), NHS leaders highlighted the need to employ tens of thousands of nurses from abroad in the next 5 years to address critical shortages.

First sustained drop in GPs numbers for 50 years

BBC News covered new analysis from the Nuffield Trust showing the UK is experiencing its first sustained fall in GP numbers since the 1960s. But demand is growing, largely due to an ageing and growing population. And survey results from Pulse found more than half of GPs say they are working above safe limits, completing 11 hour days on average. Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, referenced the survey in Prime Minister’s Questions to highlight the pressures NHS workforce are facing.

It’s not the first time NHS staff shortages have hit the news. In recent months reports have highlighted a growing shortage of cancer doctors and pathologists, all of which will be vital to meet the Government’s ambition of diagnosing 3 in 4 cancer patients at the earliest stage by 2028.

National screening programmes not hitting their targets

News concerning doctors, nurses and the NHS has been trending this week and more continues to come. The Independent and Mail Online covered a report by MPs on the 4 national screening programmes for adults, including screening programmes for bowel, breast and cervical cancer. The report found that not one of the programmes screened the number of people they should have in 2017-18. Where the bowel screening target of 60% was only just missed (59.6%), the breast cancer screening programme was 8% off its 80% target. Failure to meet these targets has been linked to dated IT infrastructure and a failure to overcome barriers that prevent particular groups of people attending screening.

‘Watch and wait’ approach recommended for certain low risk cases of prostate cancer

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) has said that in certain cases of low risk prostate cancer, there’s no survival benefit to having treatment. In new prostate cancer guidelines, NICE recommended doctors should offer patients a ‘watch and wait’ approach and discuss the potential pros and cons of undergoing treatment. Around 8,000 of the 47,000 men diagnosed with prostate cancer each year will be affected by this change in practice, as The Telegraph reports.

New drug for aggressive childhood brain cancer shows promise in mice

Scientists at the Institute of Cancer Research in London are on the hunt for drugs that can help treat an aggressive childhood brain cancer, called diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma (DIPG). They first discovered a potential target back in 2014, finding that 1 in 4 tumours carry a fault in a gene linked to a rare condition that turns muscle to bone. And in new research covered by the Independent, they’ve identified a drug that can kill cells with this gene fault in the lab and in mice. But while the research is a hugely promising start, the drug has got a long way to go – a fact that was missing from the press release title and headlines.

HPV vaccination in Rwanda

A Mosaic article takes an in-depth look at Rwanda’s campaign to reduce cervical cancer rates though a HPV vaccination programme. The article covers Rwanda’s changing attitudes to vaccination and excellently highlights some of the key factors that will help determine the success of the programme, including political support, the cost of vaccination and overcoming social taboos.

US study suggests ‘fitter’ people are at a lower risk of lung and bowel cancers

Forbes covered a US study suggesting ‘fitter’ people were less likely to develop both lung and bowel cancer. But the results are far from clear. The study looked at medical records from 50,000 people to link one-off aerobic fitness tests and cancer incidence. But it’s hard to infer too much about fitness from a single test and even harder to apply these results to the general population, as the tests were carried out on people who had gone to their doctor with symptoms like chest pain. And the study didn’t take into account some known risk factors for cancer, like alcohol consumption and family history.

And finally…

Happy Sun Awareness Week! And getting into the spirit of things The Telegraph asked the question: ‘is everything we thought we knew about sun protection wrong?’ The answer – not really, no. The paper covered a small study looking at the level of certain chemicals in sunscreen and found that some can make their way into the bloodstream at levels far higher than what’s considered to be safe by the US Food and Drug Administration. But by the study’s own admission, it used incredibly large amounts of sun cream. Everyone in the study, all 24 of them, applied the equivalent of 2 bottles of sunscreen over 4 days, much higher than what’s normally used. It’s something experts say should be investigated further.

Ethan is a news and content officer at Cancer Research UK