Welcome good SCH Health News reader to your monthly news roundup of all thing’s health related that have been in the headlines this past month, whether you be working diligently in your business or perhaps taking that well deserved holiday or break as we make the most of summer before the all too soon autumnal season breezes in –
With Covid infection levels increasing and hospitalisations following suit with the rise of the Omicron sub-variants BA.4 and BA.5, some experts have called for a reintroduction of mask-wearing in certain settings, with the chair of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation, Sir Andrew Pollard, saying it would be “sensible” for hospitals to reintroduce the practise.
Here’s what other scientists have to say –
Susan Hopkins, chief medical advisor for the UK Health Security Agency, speaking at a meeting of the Royal Society of Medicine – “The evidence on mask-wearing has grown substantially throughout the course of the pandemic. But also, I think it is not a simple one-size-fits-all … at times of higher prevalence, such as we are right now, they are definitely a good action to both protect you and to protect others. My view remains that if you are in crowded indoor place with people that you don’t know, and you’re not testing regularly, masks have an additional benefit.”
Christina Pagel, professor of operational research at University College London and member of the Independent Sage group of experts – “I’ve never stopped wearing a mask on public transport and in shops. I now also wear one during face-to-face meetings at work and would if I was going to the cinema, theatre, etc. However, I have chosen to restrict my social activities or meet outside wherever possible during these weeks of very high levels of infection. Many will not be able to restrict their contacts, so a well-fitting, high-quality mask (FFP2/FFP3) is even more important to try to reduce their chance of catching Covid or of spreading it.”
John Edmunds, professor of epidemiology at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine and also a member of the Sage group – “I don’t have the answers – however, I do know how to get them. We should take this ‘opportunity’ that the virus has yet again given us to trial out these sorts of interventions: mask-wearing and testing, for instance, in different settings and populations, using rigorous methods and preferably linked to economic analysis. As the incidence is high, it should be relatively easy to assess these interventions quickly now. The data that we collect will help us make better decisions about how to control the virus now and in the future.”
Long NHS waiting times appear to be pushing people into paying thousands of pounds for private treatment. There were 69,000 self-funded treatments in the UK in the final three months of last year – a 39% rise on the same period before the pandemic. Experts said it was a sign of how desperate people had become. The BBC has seen evidence of people taking out loans and resorting to crowdfunding to pay for private treatment.
The figures from the Private Healthcare Information Network (PHIN) do not include those who have private medical insurance – instead they are the people paying the full cost of treatment themselves, leaving them liable for huge bills. The numbers paying for care topped 250,000 last year. For common operations like hip and knee replacements, the costs can top £15,000.
Patient groups warned there was a risk of a two-tier system being created, with the poorest losing out because they were the least likely to be able to afford to pay for treatment. Katie Hooper, 19, had been struggling with knee problems for a number of years, but it got so bad this year she ended up effectively stuck in bed and unable to work.
She was suffering with dislocations, nerve pain and muscle spasms, which were preventing her working as an apprentice engineer or playing basketball, at which she competed at a high level. “I was pretty much bedbound. I was feeling very isolated and very lonely. My mental health was definitely suffering, “she said.
Katie was told it could be up to two years before she would get the treatment she needed on the NHS. “I couldn’t wait that long. I would have lost my job and I couldn’t do it.” In the end, she took out a loan to pay for the treatment to be done privately in April at Spire Southampton Hospital. It cost more than £7,000 with the follow-up physiotherapy she needed, but she was operated on within two weeks. She is now back working and has even started playing basketball again. “It has put me under financial pressure, but it was worth it 100%. You can earn money, but you can’t earn back time.”
The number of people testing positive for COVID in the UK within seven days has risen to 3,760,200, latest figures show. In England, an estimated 3,147,700 people had coronavirus in the week to 14 July, according to the Office for National Statistics. (ONS) There were 349,900 cases in Scotland, 183,200 in Wales, and 88,400 in Northern Ireland in that same period.
Last week, the estimated number of people testing positive for the virus was 3,498,700. That means 261,500 more infections have been estimated compared to last week – a rise of 7%. But last week’s increase was 29% – suggesting that the rate of infection could be slowing. Almost 3.8 million is the highest weekly estimate for total infections since mid-April, but is still below the record of 4.9 million reached at the end of March. Rates were highest in people aged 16 to 24 and 50 – 69, and lowest in children aged 6 – 11.
The majority of infections at present are the BA.4 and BA.5 Omicron variants, making up 89.2% of infections in the week ending 3 July. The ONS said that in England, the latest statistics showed higher infection levels than during the peak of the Alpha variant in January 2021. At that time, however, “hospital admissions were 2x higher and deaths were 14x higher”, it added, further stating – “It is too early to say if this most recent wave is starting to peak, but we will continue to closely monitor the data.”
Private medical cover ranks as the second most popular workplace benefit with only higher pay ahead of it, according to research from Canada Life. The research conducted by Opinium among
2,000 UK adults found a third (34%) of UK employees would like their company to offer salaries or bonuses at or above the industry average. This was followed by private medical cover (29%) and discretionary bonuses for outstanding performance (24%).
A quarter (25%) said their salaries were at or above the industry average, while just 15% received private medical cover, and the same amount were given discretionary performance bonuses.
By considering these benefits at an individual level, rather than a one size fits all approach, employers will be in a better position to engage, retain and support workers both now and in the future.
Snaking queues just to enter an airport, day-long waits to get on a ferry, last-minute cancellations, train strikes. The travel chaos experienced by many so far this summer might put others off the idea of having a holiday at all – but I sincerely hope it doesn’t.
Taking a holiday is not just a chance to get away from it all; studies have uncovered some unexpected benefits, so much so that academics from Edith Cowan University in Australia last month published a paper arguing that we should see holidays not as recreation but as ‘travel therapy’. They say getaways can be especially beneficial for your brain, as they provide sensory and cognitive stimulation, and could be viewed as an ‘intervention’ for those with dementia, for example, much like exercise or art therapy.
One of the clearest benefits I take from going away is that I sleep better. Normally I wake up at around 3am needing to go to the loo, then often struggle to get back to sleep. But when I am on holiday, I find it much easier to drop off again. And this seems to be quite common. In a 2006 study in New Zealand, a group of volunteers who were about to go away were put through a battery of tests and then asked to wear sleep monitors on their wrists. After a few days of being on holiday, researchers found the volunteers were getting on average an extra hour of good-quality sleep each night, compared with a normal night. And their mood and reaction times also improved.
Another important benefit of being on holiday is the impact it has on your heart. In 2019, researchers from Syracuse University in the U.S. invited 63 people to a laboratory where they had blood tests. They also filled in details about holidays they had taken over the previous year. The researchers were specifically testing for metabolic syndrome, a combination of high blood sugar, high blood pressure, high blood fats and a larger waist. If you have metabolic syndrome, you are at high risk of heart attack or stroke. Among the volunteers, some had taken numerous short breaks, others had taken none.
It turned out that the risk of having metabolic syndrome fell by nearly a quarter for each additional holiday people had taken. Bryce Hruska, an expert in psychological stress, who ran the study, pointed out that while we don’t yet know why going on holiday is so good for our hearts, studies show that clearly it is. He added that despite the fact Americans are typically entitled to take only ten days paid leave a year, ‘fewer than half utilise all the time available to them’. This tendency exists in the UK, too. Even before the current travel chaos began, surveys found that nearly one British worker in three said they did not take their full holiday entitlement each year because of the pressure of work and worries that more would simply pile up while they were away. I think that’s a big mistake, given the benefits a break can bring.
I trust that you found those five articles interesting, which as ever are quite heavily virus driven, however let’s hope that the end of month analysis that this latest surge could be plateauing prove to be well-founded. Until September then good people, enjoy the summer sun, steer clear of Covid, however if you do catch it, stay fully hydrated drinking many, many pints of fluids, preferably water, daily. (Something we should all be doing anyway!)
Surrey Circle Health
Specialist PMI Healthcare Broker