In casebook this month, prescription charges, covid, health and poverty, the challenges and fears of distance from emergency services and a reminder of what we plan to do this year – along with an invitation to join us!
NHS prescription charges in England to be frozen
I had somehow forgotten that only in England do we pay for prescriptions. This seems unfair to me. I wonder why they can’t be free everywhere. It might certainly have an impact on reducing rural health inequalities. This story tells us:
NHS prescription charges in England are to be frozen for the first time in 12 years, the government has confirmed.
Single prescription charges, which the Department of Health said would normally rise "in line with inflation", will remain at £9.35 until next year.
Health Secretary Sajid Javid said freezing the costs would "put money back in people's pockets".
Campaigners welcomed the move but pointed out that 90% of prescriptions dispensed are already free of charge.
People eligible for free prescriptions include those on state benefits, pregnant women and new mothers, people with specified medical conditions or disabilities, the over-60s and under-16s.
Prescriptions are free for everyone in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
UK Covid infections lowest since mid-December
Are things coming to an end finally or is this another false dawn? – there have been a significant number of innovations around telemedicine and service planning which I hope will be the lasting legacy of this pandemic for rural areas. Lots more reflections in the write up of our Parliamentary Inquiry.
Covid infections continue to decrease in the UK with around one in 45 or just over two in every 100 people thought to be infected.
The estimates - from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) - show levels of the virus are at the lowest since mid-December.
It means around 1.48m people would have tested positive in the week to 7 May.
The figures are an estimate, based on testing thousands of people at random in households across the UK.
They provide the most accurate picture of Covid infection since free testing for the public came to an end in England and Scotland. Some free testing will continue in Wales and Northern Ireland until the end of June.
Sarah Crofts, head of analytical outputs for the ONS Covid Infection Survey, said: "It is encouraging to see infections continue to decrease across the UK."
The ONS research found:
One in 45 people in England has Covid (down from one in 35 the previous week)
One in 35 in Wales has Covid (down from one in 25)
One in 55 in Northern Ireland has Covid (down from one in 40)
One in 35 in Scotland has Covid (down from one in 30)
Government’s £500m support scheme failing Britain’s poorest households
The links between poverty and ill health are well rehearsed and this article reminds us of how significant the challenges of addressing it in the current economic climate are.
A key part of the government’s response to the cost of living crisis has not been available to applicants for months in some parts of the country after councils ran out of money, the Observer can reveal.
The government launched the £500m Household Support Fund (HSF) last autumn to help poorer households with essentials. Ministers have highlighted the HSF in response to accusations it isn’t doing enough to help people cope with soaring inflation. Just last week, work and pensions minister Chloe Smith repeatedly cited the HSF in an interview with Channel 4 News.
The funding was meant to last until 31 March, but figures sourced under the Freedom of Information Act show one in six English local authorities ran out of funding for applicants at least a month earlier, some as early as December.
The bureaucratic nature of the process also meant dozens of councils that still had funding rejected more than a quarter of all applications.
Dame Clare Moriarty, chief executive of Citizens Advice, said: “Since the start of the year, we’ve seen record-breaking levels of demand for crisis support amid the cost of living squeeze. Nowhere near enough of the help from the government has been targeted at the low-income households who need it most.
“It’s concerning that this limited assistance meant certain councils had to close their schemes early. With only the same amount of money going in again this April, and cost of living pressures rising still further, this won’t be enough for those struggling.
NHS boss feared waiting for ambulance after stroke
This is a chilling story, especially for rural dwellers where according to this if you have stroke symptoms you need someone to get you to A&E fast and not to wait for an ambulance, when the call centre will put you in a second tier of priority.
An NHS boss who had a stroke was taken to A&E by her husband rather than calling for an ambulance because of concerns over long waits.
In a series of tweets, Gloucestershire Hospitals NHS Trust chief executive Deborah Lee praised his swift actions.
She said he had "bundled her into his car", last week, after she had showed the signs of a stroke because he had heard her "lamenting ambulance delays".
She is recovering but says it may have been different if they had called 999.
Waits for an ambulance in England are the longest since new targets were introduced, in 2017.
And Ms Lee's regional service - the South West - has the longest waits in the country, with category-two calls, which include strokes, taking nearly two hours, on average, to reach patients in March.
The target is 18 minutes.
In the tweets, Ms Lee said: "Naturally, I am eternally grateful to my husband for his swift actions… but I can't get one thing out of my head.
"What if my husband hadn't been there and my daughter had called for an ambulance and I'd been put in the cat[egory]-two stack?"
She went on to say it was not the fault of the ambulance service and the whole system was "working unrelentingly to solve this but to no great avail".
Ms Lee said hospitals were struggling to discharge patients, because of a lack of social care, and so delays were building up in the rest of the system.
Tens of thousands waiting too long for 999 calls to be answered in England
A second story demonstrating just how challenging simply holding the line in terms of minimum reliable levels of emergency health service delivery are and by reflection the real risks in terms of emergency medicine facing those distant from urban centres. This story tells us:
Tens of thousands of emergency calls are taking more than two minutes to be answered in England amid a crisis in the ambulance service, The Independent has learned.
More than 37,000 emergency calls took more than two minutes to answer in April 2022 – 24 times the 1,500 that took that long in April 2021, according to a leaked staff message.
April’s figures were slightly down compared to March, The Independent understands, when 44,000 calls took more than two minutes to answer.
The deterioration in 999 calls being answered within the 60-second goal comes as ambulance services across the UK have been placed under huge pressures.
The latest NHS data showed long delays in response times for ambulance services with stroke or suspected heart attack patients waiting more than 50 minutes on average.
Response times are being driven by ambulances being held up outside of A&Es because emergency departments are unable to take patients.
In March, there were likely to have been more than 4,000 instances of severe harm caused to patients as a result of ambulances being delayed by more than 60 minutes.
Data also showed 21,639 handover delays lasted for more than 120 minutes. This data is not published by NHS England.
In a message sent by West Midlands Ambulance Service (WMAS) on Thursday, staff were told new data from BT showed 37,107emergency calls in England took more than two minutes to answer in April. NHS England data shows there were 806,000 calls answered overall in April.
Just a reminder of our key priorities for the up coming year and an invitation for you to engage on any of these themes with us:
1) Piloting of the National Centre for Rural Health and Care Toolkit (PI recommendation 4) – We have 4 early adoption areas on standby to implement the rural health and care toolkit, develop with Rural England. They are: Devon, Lincolnshire, Suffolk and Shropshire. Output 4 detailed case studies and the directly positive health outcomes arising in these settings.
2) Develop a curated network for innovative primary care centres which are community focused (PI recommendation 12) – identifying and sharing best practice about multi-agency working, self-care and increased health literacy in relation to rural health inequalities. We intend to have an initial focus on coastal settlements associated with the key health workforce challenges identified in the PMOs 2021 report. Output a gazeteer of best practice and a fully functioning and self supporting ongoing network.
3) Create a knowledge exchange of good practice and problem solving focused on the rural challenges associated with the interface between health and care (PI recommendation 10 and 11) – we will undertake detailed research across England and follow the international good practice leads arising from the Parliamentary Inquiry to look at writing up and sharing examples of where dislocation at the interface of health and social care, in the context of local delivery blight desired outcomes. This will focus on more effective resourcing of early discharge from acute settings, the most effective examples of staffing of domiciliary care and the effective use of technology to support innovation. We will not only create a repository of good practice but we will create a self supporting network of rural ICS interested in this theme, beginning with our own membership, but open to all. Outputs detailed report covering best practice and a dedicated ongoing community of practice.
4. Create a rural mental health network (PI cross cutting) – there is significant recognition of the need for a good practice and network facility to address the particular nature of rural mental health. The Scottish national rural mental health strategy has delivered a real impetus in terms of the recognition of this issue and has driven preventive improvements and a recognition of the importance of this issue from a workforce perspective, both in terms of the skills needed to address mental health challenges in rural settings and the mental health challenges facing rural health practitioners. Output, Rural Mental Health Strategy and good practice dissemination materials and plan.