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Ministers urged to delay mandatory Covid jabs for NHS staff in England | NHS

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Trade union leaders are urging ministers to delay making Covid vaccination mandatory for NHS personnel because the feared exodus it will trigger will worsen the health service’s staffing crisis.

The government has decided that all NHS staff in England who have direct contact with patients must have had their first dose of a Covid vaccine by 3 February or risk losing their job at the end of March.

But the TUC has called for the policy to be delayed “with immediate effect”, to avoid the loss of staff it will create deepening the health service-wide shortage of key workers which is a key reason why dozens of NHS trusts have had to declare a major alert over the last week.

The TUC is warning the health secretary, Sajid Javid, that pressing ahead with the plan “will exacerbate this crisis, creating a bureaucratic and staffing nightmare for NHS trusts and making it impossible to maintain safe staffing levels in the coming weeks”.

Javid, who has already imposed the requirement on staff working in care homes in England, believes that compulsory jabs for NHS staff will help keep patients safe and reduce the number of people who contract Covid while in hospital.

Frances O’Grady, the TUC’s general secretary, said: “We are in the middle of an NHS staffing crisis, born not only from Covid absences but also long-term problems that need long-term solutions. Now is not the right time to introduce more bureaucracy.

“As hospitals declare critical incidents amid a surge in Covid cases, the NHS cannot afford to lose experienced and skilled staff”.

The NHS already has 93,000 vacancies, including for 40,000 nurses. The government’s own impact assessment of its policy concluded that as many as 73,000 staff may leave rather than get jabbed. Women, people from ethnic minorities and younger workers are among those most likely to quit.

The Guardian reported last month that Chris Hopson, the chief executive of the hospitals body NHS Providers, feared that entire units of hospitals may have to close “in extreme circumstances” as a result of the departure of unvaccinated staff. He cited an unnamed maternity unit where 40 midwives are refusing to get jabbed and whose stance had left the trust’s boss seriously concerned for the future viability of the service if they left, given that the NHS in England is short of about 2,500 midwives.

O’Grady issued her plea hours after new official data showed that the NHS in England is grappling with the highest number of Covid absences since the vaccine programme began 13 months ago, with more than 40,000 staff unable to attend work on two days in the past week. The disclosure prompted claims that hospitals are “simply not safe”.

An average of 35,596 staff were sick with Covid in the past week, a level last seen in January 2021 at the height of the second wave of the pandemic and higher than any week since all priority groups were offered at least their first vaccine in mid-February.

The UK reported a further 178,250 Covid cases on Friday, bringing the total for the past seven days to 1,260,535, up 20% compared with the total for the week before. However, the daily figure is lower than those recorded in recent days, with 179,756 cases reported on Thursday and 194,747 on Wednesday.

On Wednesday Sir David Nicholson, the former chief executive of NHS England who is now the chair of the Sandwell and West Birmingham hospitals trust, said that it could lose hundreds of staff as a result of mandatory vaccination.

“My understanding on vaccines is that, though we may not put it in these terms, we will essentially be giving unvaccinated staff notice at the start of February.

“I am sure that’s not quite the right way of putting it but that is the inexorable logic of where we are.”

The Homerton hospital trust in east London said last month that its bosses “remain worried” that conversations with unvaccinated staff to persuade them to get immunised “haven’t made an impact yet”.

Tom Nettel, the trust’s director of people, told a board meeting: “Unfortunately, if we are not able to vaccinate them, and they do not feel comfortable to do so, we may be faced with an outcome of dismissal.”

A spokesperson for the Department of Health and Social Care said the vaccination mandate would not be delayed. “NHS and care staff do amazing work and we are thankful to those who have chosen to get the vaccine,” the spokesperson said. “Vaccinations remain our best defence against Covid-19. This is about patient safety and ensuring we are doing everything we can to reduce risk for vulnerable people. There are no plans to change the implementation dates.”

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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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