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  1. Support pledge for vulnerable doctors after suicides

    Doctors facing investigation by the GMC are to get improved support for their health following an inquiry into 28 deaths, it was announced today.

    Investigators will also be expected to treat doctors as “innocent until proven guilty.”

    The GMC said it would be appointing a senior medical officer to oversee the health of doctors facing investigation.

    In eight years from 2005 to 2013, 28 of the doctors facing GMC investigation over fitness to practice died of suicide or suspected suicide.

    The independent review said the doctors faced a range of personal pressures, including mental health disorder, addictions, marriage breakdown and financial hardship.

    It recommends setting up a national support service for doctors – an idea the GMC says it will explore further by bringing together those who might support it.

    The report was written by the former chief executive of the National Patient Safety Agency Sarndrah Horsfall.

    It was welcomed by the medical director of the practitioner health programme, Dr Clare Gerada.

    She said: “Doctors are sometimes patients too and supporting vulnerable doctors is a shared responsibility.

    “It is important that in taking forward the recommendations in the review the GMC works in partnership with everyone who has an interest in this area including the Practitioner Health Programme, the Royal College of Psychiatrists and the BMA.”

    GMC chief executive Niall Dickson said he recognised the organisation had “more to do.”

    He said: “We do recognise that doctors need to be able to access appropriate support when they are not well, and that doctors may have particular needs in their dealings with mental health and other services.”

    He added: “We know that some doctors who come into our procedures have very serious health concerns, including those who have had ideas of committing suicide. We know too that for any doctor, being investigated by the GMC is a stressful experience and very often follows other traumas in their lives.

    “Our first duty must, of course, be to protect patients but we are determined to do everything we can to make sure we handle these cases as sensitively as possible, to ensure the doctors are being supported locally and to reduce the impact of our procedures.”

    The findings were welcomed by the British Medical Association.

    Chair Dr Mark Porter said: “Many doctors are already facing high levels of stress, with one survey of GPs showing that four in 10 are facing burnout, and a recent BMA survey which highlighted how morale is plummeting at a time when workloads are becoming increasingly unmanageable.

    “It is in the interests of both doctors and patients that, where appropriate, concerns can be raised and that these are thoroughly investigated.

    “But this process must be fair and offer adequate protection to ensure the system itself does not cause harm.”

  2. New advice on baby infections

    Doctors get new advice today on when to give antibiotics to new-born babies.

    Experts say doctors should give antibiotics of a new-born baby showing serious symptoms – even if they are waiting for test results.

    Infections are responsible for 10% of deaths of new-born babies – but concerns over the use of antibiotics can make it hard for clinicians to know when to use them.

    The new guidance calls for thorough assessment of all new-born babies and their mothers to check for signs that may indicate the risk of serious infection.

    And women in labour should be given preventative antibiotics, they say, if there is a risk of them passing on infection.

    The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence says the guidance should support “responsible” prescribing of antibiotics and ensure babies are not exposed to unnecessary treatments.

    Professor Gillian Leng, from NICE, said: “Giving prompt treatment with antibiotics helps to save the lives of many new-born babies every year.

    “We also know that there are times when babies are given antibiotics when they are not needed. This standard sets out how healthcare professionals should responsibly prescribe antibiotics in new-born babies to make sure they are not exposed to unnecessary treatments.

    “This will prevent many babies developing a resistance to antibiotics when they grow up and may also reduce the risk of having further problems, such as eczema and asthma.”

    The guidance was welcomed by the Meningitis Research Foundation.

    Chief executive Christopher Head said: “New-borns have underdeveloped immune systems putting them at risk of getting infections which can lead to meningitis and septicaemia.

    “Because these diseases become life-threatening within hours, identification and treatment are time critical.”


  3. London vies for research lead

    London is rapidly becoming the main centre for academic research, outstripping Oxford and Cambridge, according to a new analysis.

    In medicine, Cambridge University remains predominant – but overall it ranks third in the UK for research.

    The London School of Economics, which does not do medicine, gained top place in the national ranking, ahead of Oxford and then Cambridge.

    They were followed by Imperial College, London, and University College, London.

    Cardiff University was sixth in the rankings.

    The rankings bear official weight as they will help decide allocations of funding for universities. They are based on the proportion of research graded as 4* or more.

    Known as the Research Excellence Framework, the rankings measure 52,000 academics in 154 universities.

    William Cullerne Bown, of Research Fortnight, said: “London looks unstoppable” and its institutions could now “eclipse” Oxbridge.

    He said: "The biggest losers are Manchester, Liverpool, Sheffield, Birmingham and Leeds. The North is taking a hammering."

  4. Gene study hope for child brain cancer care

    A new genetic study may offer some hope to children with hard to treat brain tumours, researchers reported last night.

    Researchers say their findings could mean that doctors can identify children who can be treated when the cancer recurs.

    They report finding unique genetic paths followed by the brain tumour medulloblastoma.

    The Newcastle University researchers made their discoveries by studying samples of tumours from 29 children who had suffered from relapse.

    They found two common genetic faults and found that an experimental drug could tackle one of these faults.

    Professor Steve Clifford, from Newcastle University, said: “Our study shows that we need to understand and treat relapsed medulloblastoma in a completely new way.

    “It’s clear that new biopsies need to be taken when the disease returns to give doctors a clearer picture of the best and most appropriate treatment.”

    Dr Louis Chesler, of the Institute of Cancer Research, London, said: “We were very pleased to show in our study that some children with relapsed medulloblastoma could benefit from currently available targeted drugs, which usually have fewer and less severe side effects than traditional chemotherapy.

    “It gives us a recipe to direct the use of targeted medicines in relapse where they are most needed.

    “To personalise treatment to those who might benefit, doctors will need access to tumour samples as soon as children develop relapsed disease. Tumour biopsies are not routinely taken in these situations currently – and that will have to change before we can match the best treatments to the children who desperately need them.”

    Hill, R.M. et al. Combined MYC and TP53 defects emerge at medulloblastoma relapse and define rapidly progressive, therapeutically targetable disease Cancer Cell 18 December 2014


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