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Hospitals in England asked to look for up to 4,000 emergency Covid beds | NHS

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Hospitals have been asked to identify sites for up to 4,000 emergency beds to deal with a potential wave of Omicron admissions in England, as cases hit a record 183,000.

On Wednesday, more than 10,000 patients were in hospital with Covid, a figure not reached since March.

NHS England confirmed that it was creating new small-scale “Nightingale” facilities with up to 100 beds each at eight hospitals across the country. The health service said it had asked trusts to identify empty spaces to accommodate beds in places such as gyms or teaching areas. NHS managers are aiming to create up to 4,000 beds as surge capacity if needed, with work on the first tranche, in temporary structures, starting this week.

A number of huge temporary hospitals, called the “Nightingales”, were built in exhibition halls in the first wave of the pandemic but were dismantled without being used to capacity.

The new approach will ask for surge capacity to be built in the grounds of hospitals to make it easier for staff to move between new and old sites and keep patients closer to diagnostics and emergency care. The first sites will be at Preston, Leeds, Birmingham, Leicester, Stevenage, St George’s in London, Ashford and Bristol. There are currently almost 90,000 adult acute and general beds available in England, with occupancy at about 90% on 19 December.

The announcement came as new data showed there were 10,462 people in hospital in England with Covid as of Wednesday, although it is still unclear how many were admitted with the disease and how many are there for another reason while also testing positive.

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The number of patients on mechanical ventilation has remained fairly stable in recent weeks and even reduced since November. On Wednesday the number of deaths reported was 57.

Boris Johnson returned from his Christmas break at Chequers on Wednesday with a visit to a vaccine centre to urge people to get their booster jabs, saying up to 90% of people in intensive care had not received their third dose. He said people should celebrate New Year’s Eve but called on them to exercise caution and take tests.

The prime minister also warned that Omicron continued to “cause real problems” even though it was “obviously milder than the Delta variant”.

The NHS has called on people to have a “jabby new year”, highlighting research from the Intensive Care National Audit and Research Centre (ICNARC) that found that at the start of last month about three out of five patients in London’s intensive care units had not received a jab, a figure that it said was rising.

Prof Stephen Powis, the NHS national medical director, said the health service hoped never to have to use the surge beds but added: “Given the high level of Covid-19 infections and increasing hospital admissions, the NHS is now on a war footing.”

Sajid Javid, the health secretary, also said it was “absolutely right that we prepare for all scenarios and increase capacity”.

With the government still concerned about the possibility that the high case numbers of Omicron could overwhelm the NHS, Johnson is holding off from cutting the Covid isolation period to five days for those without symptoms.

The prime minister has come under pressure to reduce the UK’s isolation period again, after the US decided to halve it for those without symptoms from five to 10 days as long as they wear a mask in public.

The UK reduced its quarantine period from 10 to seven days last week if people test negative by lateral flow, but some other countries around the world are now looking at going further.

Sir John Bell, regius professor of medicine at Oxford University and the government’s life sciences adviser, has indicated support for a shorter isolation period “if it was supported by lateral flow data”.

A No 10 source said everything was “kept under review” but insisted that there were “no immediate plans” to revise the quarantine period again so soon.

Several Tory backbenchers called on the government to consider a move similar to the US. Andrew Bridgen urged Johnson to reduce the isolation period, saying the biggest threat to the NHS was “forced absentees due to self-isolation”.

David Davis, the former Brexit secretary, said a five-day isolation period followed by a lateral flow test “sounded sensible” for Omicron cases. “If the Americans are doing it, the question is why are we not doing it, not why we should,” he said.

Davis also called on the government to make sure it has enough doses of therapies such as Paxlovid that can reduce the risk of hospitalisation in severe Covid cases and to improve data on how many people are in hospital because of the coronavirus, rather than for another condition while also testing positive for the virus.

Lee Anderson, a 2019 intake Tory backbencher, said “all options to get people back to work quicker should be looked at”. Another MP added said “isolation could be a bigger issue than actual illness” and they would “support a review at the very least”.

Chloe Smith, the minister for disabled people, health and work, said on Wednesday there were “no current plans in England to change the period” for isolation. She told BBC Breakfast on Wednesday: “Of course, we have actually only recently taken it down from 10 to seven, and we want to look at that – we want to make sure that that is working as we believe it ought to. We think the current period, therefore, is the right one, so we haven’t any plans to change that further.”

NHS managers have said they are as worried about the impact on patient care of staff shortages from people having to isolate as they are about surging admissions from Covid.

The chief executive of NHS Providers, Chris Hopson,said the effect of greater social mixing over Christmas was still to come. He told BBC Breakfast: “We’re now seeing a significant increase in the level of staff absences, and quite a few of our chief executives are saying that they think that that’s probably going to be a bigger problem and a bigger challenge for them than necessarily the number of people coming in who need treatment because of Covid.”

In response to the new Nightingale sites, Hopson said it “must be the right ‘no regrets later’ move to make these preparations now” but highlighted the difficulty of staffing them.

“Given the other pressures on the NHS and the current level of staff absences, staffing this capacity would be a major challenge,” he said. “But co-location on existing hospital sites maximises the NHS’s ability to meet that challenge.”

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Solar storms may cause up to 5500 heart-related deaths in a given year

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In an approximate 11-year cycle, the sun blasts out charged particles and magnetised plasma that can distort Earth’s magnetic field, which may disrupt our body clock and ultimately affect our heart



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17 June 2022

A solar storm

Jurik Peter/Shutterstock

Solar storms that disrupt Earth’s magnetic field may cause up to 5500 heart-related deaths in the US in a given year.

The sun goes through cycles of high and low activity that repeat approximately every 11 years. During periods of high activity, it blasts out charged particles and magnetised plasma that can distort Earth’s magnetic field.

These so-called solar storms can cause glitches in our power grids and bring down Earth-orbiting satellites. A handful of studies have also hinted that they increase the risk of …

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UK Covid infection rate rising, with more than a million cases in England | Coronavirus

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Coronavirus infections are rising in the UK, figures have revealed, with experts noting the increase is probably down to the more transmissible BA.4 and BA.5 Omicron variants.

The figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS), based on swabs collected from randomly selected households, reveal that in the week ending 11 June an estimated one in 50 people in the community in England are thought to have had Covid – around 1.13 million people.

The figure is even higher, at one in 45, in both Wales and Northern Ireland, while it was highest in Scotland where, in the week ending 10 June, one in 30 people are thought to have been infected.

While the figures remain below the peak levels of infection seen earlier this year, when around one in 13 people in England had Covid, the findings are a rise on the previous week where one in 70 people in England were thought to be infected. Furthermore, the data reveals increases in all regions of England, except the north-east, and across all age groups.

Experts say that a key factor in the increase is probably the rise of the Covid variants of concern BA.4 and BA.5.

“Infections have increased across all four UK nations, driven by rising numbers of people infected with the BA.4 and BA.5 Omicron variants,” said Kara Steel, senior statistician for the Covid-19 Infection Survey.

While Steel said it remained too early to say if this was the start of another wave, others have warned it may already have begun, with increased mixing and travelling among other factors fuelling a rise in cases.

Among concerns scientists have raised are that BA.4, BA.5 and another variant on the rise, BA.2.12.1, replicate more efficiently in human lung cells than BA.2.

Prof Azra Ghani, an epidemiologist at Imperial College London, said the latest figures were not surprising, and might rise further.

“This increase in infection prevalence is likely due to the growth of the BA.4 and BA.5 Omicron subvariants, which as we have seen elsewhere in Europe, appear to be able to escape immunity generated from previous Omicron subvariants,” she said.

“It is therefore possible that we will continue to see some growth in infection prevalence in the coming weeks and consequently an increase in hospitalisations, although these subvariants do not currently appear to result in any significantly changed severity profile. This does however serve as a reminder that the Covid-19 pandemic is not over.”

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NHS to offer women in England drug that cuts recurrence of breast cancer | Breast cancer

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Thousands of women in England with breast cancer are to benefit from a new pill on the NHS which reduces the risk of the disease coming back.

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice) has given the green light to abemaciclib, which cuts the chance of breast cancer returning after a patient has had surgery to remove a tumour.

Trials showed that patients who had the drug with hormone therapy had a more than 30% improved chance of their cancer not coming back after surgery, compared with hormone therapy alone.

“It’s fantastic thousands of women with this type of primary breast cancer will now have an additional treatment option available on the NHS to help further reduce the risk of the disease coming back,” said Delyth Morgan, the chief executive of charity Breast Cancer Now.

“The fear of breast cancer returning or spreading to other parts of their body and becoming incurable can cause considerable anxiety for so many women and their loved ones.

“New effective treatments such as abemaciclib, which can offer more women the chance to further reduce the risk of the disease recurring, are therefore extremely welcome and this is an important step change in the drug options available for this group of patients.”

The twice-a-day pill is suitable for women with hormone receptor-positive, HER2-negative, node-positive early breast cancer at high risk of recurrence who have had surgery. About 4,000 women will benefit initially, Nice said.

Helen Knight, the interim director of medicines evaluation at Nice, said the draft recommendation came less than a month after abemaciclib received its licence.

“The fact that we have been able to produce draft recommendations so quickly is testament to the success of our ambition to support patient access to clinically and cost effective treatments as early as possible,” said Knight. “Until now there have been no targeted treatments for people with this type of breast cancer.

“Abemaciclib with hormone therapy represents a significant improvement in how it is treated because being able to have a targeted treatment earlier after surgery will increase the chance of curing the disease and reduce the likelihood of developing incurable advanced disease.”

Abemaciclib works by targeting and inhibiting proteins in cancer cells which allow the cancer to divide and grow. It normally costs £2,950 for a packet of 56 150mg-tablets, but the manufacturer, Eli Lilly, has agreed an undisclosed discounted price for NHS England.

“Thanks in part to this latest deal struck by NHS England, NHS patients will be able to access another new targeted drug for a common and aggressive form of breast cancer,” said Prof Peter Johnson, the cancer director of NHS England.

“Abemaciclib, when used alongside a hormone therapy, offers a new, doubly targeted, treatment option, helping to increase the chances of beating the cancer for good, as well as meeting the NHS’s commitment to delivering improved cancer care under our long-term plan.”

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