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Military deployed at London hospitals due to Omicron staff shortages | Coronavirus

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The armed forces are being deployed to help hospitals in London deal with a surge in Covid patients because the Omicron variant is leaving so many staff sick and unable to work.

Of the 200 military personnel involved, 40 are doctors who will help NHS staff look after patients. The other 160 personnel, who have no medical training, will check in patients, ensure stocks are maintained and would also be “conducting basic checks”, the Ministry of Defence said.

Some have already started work and they are expected to support the NHS in the capital until the end of the month.

The announcement comes two days after Boris Johnson said he hopes England can “ride out” the current wave of Covid-19 without further restrictions, but did acknowledge parts of the NHS would feel “temporarily overwhelmed” by Omicron.

Health union leaders, although grateful for the help, have said this latest move means the government can no longer be “dismissive” of concerns about “delivering safe care”.

Thousands of NHS staff have been off work each week in London, which last month became the first part of the country to see a huge wave of Covid cases caused by the new strain, leaving hospitals struggling to cope with unprecedented levels of staff absence.

Chris Hopson, the chief executive of hospitals group NHS Providers, welcomed the assistance from personnel from what is thought to be all three armed forces. But he said that their arrival underlined the extent of NHS understaffing.

“Trust leaders will welcome the support of colleagues from the armed forces during what continues to be an incredibly challenging time for the NHS in London.

“The fact that we need to call upon army medics and general duty personnel at all underlines the sheer scale of the workforce challenges the NHS is facing.

“The experience of the pandemic makes plain underlying issues which need resolution – the need for a national long-term plan for the health and care workforce, ongoing challenges with vacancies and recruitment pre-dating the pandemic by a number of years.”

Hospitals elsewhere in England, which are seeing dramatic increases in Covid admissions, may also seek military aid, Hopson added.

The news came as the UK reported a further 179,756 Covid cases on Thursday, with the number of people infected with the Omicron variant continuing to increase rapidly.

The latest figures – which reflect infections picked up by testing – bring the UK total for the past seven days to 1,272,131, up 29% on the week before. The true number of infections is estimated to be substantially higher as not all infections are captured by the testing programme.

The data also showed that in England there are 17,988 Covid patients in hospital, up from 15,659 the day before, with a further 231 deaths within 28 days of a positive Covid test reported in the UK on Thursday.

Military personnel have helped out in hospitals in previous waves of the pandemic and continue to assist the ambulance services in Wales and Scotland and have also been helping the booster programme.

The Royal College of Nursing said the deployment proved that the NHS is critically short of staff and asked for assurances that those involved have the skills to help look after patients.

“The government can no longer deny the staffing crisis in the NHS. The prime minister and others can no longer be dismissive of questions about the ability of NHS staff to deliver safe care,” said Patricia Marquis, its nursing director for England.

“Once the military has been brought in, where does the government turn next in a bid to ‘ride out’ the wave rather than deal with it?

“Nursing staff might welcome any extra help at work right now, but we need to know that the government isn’t compromising patient and professional standards in any way.”

Hopson earlier said soaring infection rates in the north of England mean that one NHS trust expects to have 30% more Covid cases next week than it had at the last peak.

He fears that hospitals outside the capital will not be as able to cope with the new wave of admissions as those in London. He said this was because they had deeper staffing problems, higher levels of sickness and absence, older populations and in some cases worse social care provision.

Some trusts outside London have as many as 19% of their staff absent because of Covid, much higher than the 10% off sick or isolating that other NHS organisations have been reporting, he added.

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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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