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News Archives, September 2005
Friday, 30 September 2005 12:42
BNN: British Nursing News Online · www.bnn-online.co.uk
Bird flu could kill 150 million
A UN health official has warned that a pandemic of bird flu could happen at any time and kill between 5-150 million people.

David Nabarro said a strain of the virus currently affecting Asia could trigger new outbreaks.

"The consequences in terms of human life when the pandemic does start are going to be extraordinary and very damaging," he told the BBC.

Bird flu has killed massive numbers of birds and poultry in Asia since 2003 and has also claimed 60 human lives.

"It's like a combination of global warming and HIV/Aids 10 times faster than it's running at the moment," Dr Nabarro said.

He added that the possibility of avian flu mutating into a strain easily transmittable between humans was high and, because of migratory bird patterns, "the first outbreak could happen even in Africa or in the Middle East".

The Association of South East Asian Nations has recently agreed to a three-year plan to stop the spread of the infection, and pledged $2 million to fund research.

Dr Nabarro said the number of deaths from any future pandemic would depend on where it started and the speed of response from governments.

"The range of deaths could be anything between 5m and 150m," he said.

"I believe that the work we're doing over the next few months will make the difference between, for example, whether the next pandemic leads us in the direction of 150 or in the direction of five. "So our effectiveness will be directly measured in lives saved and the consequences for the world."

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Friday, 30 September 2005 12:32
BNN: British Nursing News Online · www.bnn-online.co.uk
Pesticides found in a third of foods
Government research has revealed that a third of the foods we eat contain traces of pesticides, although most fall within the legal limits.

Some 3,854 products were analysed, including fruit, vegetables, meat, fish bread and drink, with 31 per cent containing chemicals.

The Pesticide Residues Committee said it was reassuring that only one per cent of the samples contained more than the legal limit of chemicals.

Of the 42 samples above the legal limit, 39 were fruit or vegetables. The report said that washing or peeling fruit and vegetables before use was important to reduce the risk.

Dr Ian Brown, chairman of the committee, said on the BBC News website: "People should not be concerned by very low pesticide residues in our food.

"Our findings indicate that food suppliers are ensuring a high rate of compliance with legislation relating to the use of pesticides."

A spokeswoman from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said: "We would always advise you to wash fruit or cook vegetables when necessary to reduce any risk from pesticides.

"With some produce, oranges for instance, removing the outer layer immediately limits exposure."

Barbara Dinham, director of the Pesticide Action Network, said: "The fact that only about 1% of the samples had levels above legal limits is to be welcomed.

"However, we would like to see more precautionary measures and a downward trend.
"Some pesticides have an accumulative effect and can be damaging to health."

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Friday, 30 September 2005 12:24
BNN: British Nursing News Online · www.bnn-online.co.uk
Male life expectancy to rise
The life expectancy of 65-year-old men may soon increase by three years to nearly 90, the latest figures from the actuarial profession have suggested.

Mortality figures suggest there has been a vast improvement in death rates and life expectancy for 65-year-olds during the last few years.

But for the first time, the authors of the actuaries’ continuous mortality investigation (CMI) refused to make an official estimate of future life expectancy amid uncertainty that the trend will continue in the coming years.

Brian Ridsdale of the CMI said: "Life expectancy has improved dramatically over recent decades but all estimates of future mortality carry considerable uncertainty. Issues of individual choice, such as diet, smoking or drugs have the potential to slow down or even reverse mortality improvements."

However, based on recent trends, it is though that the next decade could see dramatic increases in life expectancy.

In 1997, the CMI predicted that by this year a 65-year-old man would be likely to live until the age of 83 years and one month, but in reality, a 65-year-old man in 2005 can expect to live to 86.

On this basis, by 2015, life expectancy will have increased to 89 years and 10 months with serious implications for the finances of the state and occupational pension schemes.

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Friday, 30 September 2005 11:54
BNN: British Nursing News Online · www.bnn-online.co.uk
GP reform threat to patient care
A survey carried out by the BBC has revealed that nearly half of GPs feel that patient care has been compromised by changes to the way night and weekend shifts are arranged.

Following the decision of most GPs to opt out of providing out-of-hours care, 45 per cent of the 500 respondents said standards had dropped.

But 85 per cent said they thought their own quality of life had improved.

The British Medical Association said that, on the whole, patients had benefited from the changes but patient’s groups said that care had worsened, with the NHS more focused on staff than the public.

The new GP contract, introduced in April last year, allowed 95 per cent of GPs to refuse out-of-hours work as local health authorities arranged alternative cover in the form of GP co-operatives, paramedics and nurses.

One year on from the reforms, the BBC survey found that a third of doctors felt the change had put extra strain on local A&E services.

Simon Williams, director of policy at the Patients Association, said: "The NHS is increasingly being designed around the needs of staff, not patients.

"This is wrong. It is taxpayers' money that is being spent and the patient must come first.

"Instead, when a patient needs help out of hours, they face a trip down to A&E or long waits on the phone. Care has undoubtedly got worse."

But Dr Peter Swinyard, of the British Medical Association's GP committee, said patient care had improved.

"We have got to think about the whole of patient care rather than just the out-of-hours period.

"When we were doing out-of-hours care, patients were being seen by tired and stressed doctors. That was not good for care.

"The big revolution has been that doctors are now alert during the day, and specialist care is available in the night."

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Friday, 30 September 2005 11:06
BNN: British Nursing News Online · www.bnn-online.co.uk
Concern over Boots’ weight loss drug scheme
Doctors have expressed concern over a change in the rules governing the weight loss drug Xernical which means patients can now pick it up in pharmacies without needing a doctors prescription.

GPs yesterday warned that pharmacists would not have the necessary information on the patient and said that patients may decide to use the drug without modifying their diet and exercise patterns, a requirment for getting a prescription.

The National Obesity Forum recommends that only those who have tried for three months to loose weight through a change in lifestyle should receive the drug.

Xenical, also known as Orlistat, causes the body to excrete fat by preventing its absorption by the lower intestine. Users must maintain a low-fat diet or face side effects including loss of bowel control.

Now patients who enrol on weight loss programmes at around 100 branches of Boots across the country will be able to get it. – providing they are classed as obese (having a body mass index of 30 or more).

Boots said that blood pressure and glucose levels would be measured before medication was administered and added that a pilot of the scheme in Manchester had been a success, with participants losing an average of 6.5 per cent of their body weight over three months, and 13.4 per cent over nine months.

Steve Churton, assistant pharmaceutical superintendent at Boots said: "People often don't like going to their GPs about weight loss. By having this programme available through consultation with a pharmacist we are making it more accessible for those who want to try this effective approach to losing weight."

But Dr Jim Kennedy, chairman of the Royal College of GPs prescribing committee, said he had “substantial concerns” about the Boots scheme.

"We have particular concerns about the treatment of conditions such as obesity with drugs because it has to be a very holistic approach and drugs would be only one very minor part of that," he said.

"We would be worried about how the pharmacists would know about the background of the patient and how they would stop people being able to get two or three times the normal amount by simply going to several stores."

A Boots spokesperson said the company would take a detailed medical history of customers and post it to their GP to update medical records.

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Friday, 30 September 2005 10:48
BNN: British Nursing News Online · www.bnn-online.co.uk
Bed blocking reaches peak
The availability of hospital beds in Scotland is under threat from an increases in bed blocking, with many patients waiting more than six weeks to be discharged, new figures have revealed.

In total, 1,465 patients were ready to leave hospital in July, compared to 1,332 three months previously, and some 753 of them had been ready for discharge for more than six weeks, compared to 636 in April.

But Scottish Executive figures suggest that bed blocking – where beds are taken up by elderly patients who are ready to leave but have nowhere to go – has actually decreased over the past year.

In July last year, the number of patients ready for discharge stood at 1,827, with 1,040 having been ready to leave for more than six weeks.

Deputy health minister Lewis Macdonald said the latest figures were a seasonal peak: "It is important to note that the figures in this census are 20 per cent below the position a year ago," he said. "Despite an increase in the July census compared to the previous quarter, we do expect partnerships to be back on track by October.

"The figures released show that the number of patients whose discharge is delayed has halved since we launched our action plan in March 2002."

He added that ministers were spending £30 million per year until 2007 to tackle the problem.

"And we expect partnerships to meet the target of achieving a further 20 per cent year-on-year reduction by April 2006," he said.

A spokeswoman for the British Medical Association Scotland said: "We generally welcome the overall reduction in the number of delayed discharges since the same time last year.

"However, despite the overall downward trend, mid-year fluctuations mean that patients can still face long waits to return home.

"Delayed discharge is not just a problem for acute hospitals. Patients who are in post-acute care often face long periods of delay to be discharged to their own homes, nursing or care homes.

"Failure to make adequate and timely arrangements to discharge patients creates bottle-necks that often disrupt entire hospitals and adds to the stress suffered by patients, who find themselves stuck in hospital.

"If patients are not discharged, new patients who require medical attention cannot be admitted.

"Delayed discharge will only be eliminated for good when the NHS is adequately resourced and capacity meets demand."

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Friday, 30 September 2005 10:35
BNN: British Nursing News Online · www.bnn-online.co.uk
Hyperactivity drug linked to suicidal thoughts
The Medicines and Healthcare Regulatory Agency has warned that a drug taken by 15,000 children in the UK to treat attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder has been found to increase the risk of suicidal thoughts.

The MHRA said yesterday that it would now re-examine the benefits of Strattera, which is manufactured by Lilly.

The warning follows findings announced earlier this week that the risk of suicide is increased among children using antidepressants called Selective Serotonin Re-uptake Inhibitors.

June Raine, the director of medicines post-licensing at the MHRA, said: "We are advising healthcare professionals that patients should be carefully monitored for signs of depression, suicidal thoughts or suicidal behaviour and referred for alternative treatment if necessary.

"Children who are doing well on the medication should continue their treatment. Those who experience any unusual symptoms, or are concerned, should speak to their doctor to discuss the best course of action."

In response, Lilly said there had been six reports of suicidal thoughts out of 1,357 patients – a rate of 0.44 per cent – and no suicides.

It added that Strattera was the most widely used an stringently tested of all ADHD medicines.

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Friday, 30 September 2005 10:08
BNN: British Nursing News Online · www.bnn-online.co.uk
Sweetener linked to cancer
An artificial sweetener used in more than 6,000 food and drink products is at the centre of a storm of controversy after an Italian research centre found that it causes cancer of the kidney and the peripheral nerves (mainly in the head).

Scientists from the European Ramazzini Foundation for cancer research in Bologna had conducted a large-scale study into the effect of aspartame on 1,800 rats. Previous studies have linked the sweetener to an increased risk of leukaemias and lymphomas in lab rats “at doses very close to the acceptable daily intake for humans”.

But manufacturers of aspartame have questioned the validity of the study and attacked the research as “in total conflict with hundreds of credible studies that have been thoroughly reviewed around the world”.

The sweetener is estimated to account for 62 per cent of the world market in sweetening agents and is commonly found in diet colas and low-calorie drinks, juices, sweets, chewing gum, cereals, yoghurts, desserts, crisps, medicines and vitamin supplements.

The European Food Safety Authority said it would review the research “as a matter of high priority” but added that, at present, it is not recommending that consumers avoid products containing aspartame.

The International Sweeteners Association said last week: "Aspartame is one of the most tested food ingredients ever and all evaluations undertaken by independent risk assessors at international, European, and national level have concluded that aspartame is a safe foodstuff ... Aspartame can make a useful contribution to weight control. With billions of man-years of safe use, there is no indication of an association between aspartame and cancer in humans."

One of the largest manufacturers of aspartame, the Japanese company Ajinomoto, said in a statement: "Aspartame has a record of 25 years of safe use. Aspartame is made from amino acids and is broken down into common dietary components. Aspartame itself therefore brings nothing new to the diet. Raising ill-founded fears about an ingredient which helps people to control calorie intake is not benign."

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Thursday, 29 September 2005 12:48
BNN: British Nursing News Online · www.bnn-online.co.uk
eBay facing court over illegal contact lens offers
The internet auction giant eBay is facing court action over the sale of contact lenses on its website.

People who buy lenses without undergoing the appropriate tests can face serious eye damage and the law requires lenses to be sold by a registered optician or doctor.

The website said it did not permit the sale of contact lenses and had a policy of removing any listings it becomes aware of.

But the General Optical Council said that two days ago there were 200 contact lens entries on eBay.

These have since been taken down but, if found guilty in court, the company could be fined up to £2,500 per charge.

Nathan Efron, a GOC member and professor of optometry at Manchester University, said: "Lenses sit directly on the eye, so even if they feel fine to the wearer, there is a risk of irritation and infection.

"These kind of problems could result in a wearer becoming intolerant, and not being able to wear contacts again.

"However, in a worst case scenario, it could lead to vision loss and blindness.

"So it is incredibly important to have lenses fitted by a qualified professional."

The rules apply to both fashion lenses, which give the user a different eye colour, and prescription lenses used to correct problems with vision.

The GOC said it first contacted eBay to voice its concerns in August last year but the company had continually failed to deal with the problem.

GOC registrar Peter Coe said: "We very much regret that it has been necessary to take legal action in this case."

However, eBay strongly refuted the GOC’s claims, saying that all listings that break the company’s rules are promptly taken down.

"This includes, but is not limited to, prescription drugs, contact lenses, and prescription eyewear," eBay UK Ltd said.

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Thursday, 29 September 2005 12:28
BNN: British Nursing News Online · www.bnn-online.co.uk
Aids virus may be weakening
Researchers at the Institute of Tropical Medicine in Antwerp have suggested that the virus which causes Aids may be getting less powerful.

Scientists compared HIV-1 samples from 1986-89 and 2002-03 and found that the newer samples did not appear to multiply as efficiently and were more sensitive to drugs, contradicting other studies which have suggested that the virus is becoming more resistant.

Writing in the journal Aids, the researchers stressed that the findings should in no way lead to a scaling down of efforts to prevent the spread of HIV, and added that they were only able to compare 12 samples from each period. They were also unable to assess the full extent that drug therapy may have had on the virus.

Researcher Dr Eric Artz said: "This was a very preliminary study, but we did find a pretty striking observation in that the viruses from the 2000s are much weaker than the viruses from the eighties.

"Obviously this virus is still causing death, although it may be causing death at a slower rate of progression now. Maybe in another 50 to 60 years we might see this virus not causing death."

Keith Alcorn, senior editor at the HIV information charity NAM, said the findings conflicted with the belief that HIV would increase in potency as it infected increasing numbers of people.

"What appears to be happening is that by the time HIV passes from one person to another, it has already toned down some of its most pathogenic effects in response to its host's immune system," he said on the BBC News website.

"So the virus that is passed on is less 'fit' each time.

"This would suggest that over several generations, HIV could become less harmful to its human hosts.

"However, we are still far from that point - HIV is still a life-threatening infection."

World Health Organisation HIV expert, Dr Marco Vitoria, said other diseases such as smallpox, TB and syphilis had weakened with time.

"There is a natural trend to reach an 'equilibrium' between the agent and the host interests, in order to guarantee concomitant survival for a longer time," he said.

But he added: "This kind of change cannot be adequately measured in years, but in generations."

Will Nutland, of the charity Terrence Higgins Trust, said: "This latest study adds to the debate on an apparently confusing and contradictory issue.

"Some studies suggest recent strains of HIV are more sensitive to drugs while others claim strains are becoming more resistant.

"The study adds to the body of evidence but HIV is showing no signs of dying out in the near future."

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