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UK care home firm says visitor rules in ‘total imbalance’ to Covid risks | Social care



One of the UK’s biggest care home operators is calling on the government to lift visiting restrictions after it recorded one Covid death in the last fortnight.

Four Seasons Healthcare, which operates 165 care homes, said close to 4,000 residents were living under strict lockdowns because of outbreaks, but the Omicron variant was proving so mild in a well-vaccinated population that limits on seeing family and friends were in “total imbalance” with the risk.

Of 132 deaths among the chain’s residents in the last two weeks, just one was attributed to Covid, but because two or more staff or residents have tested positive in 86 homes, indoor visits are now largely banned. That is in step with government guidelines imposed before Christmas amid uncertainty about the danger of the latest coronavirus variant.

“We are depriving people of their right to visitors, which is an absolute outrage,” said Jeremy Richardson, the chief executive of the UK’s third largest care home provider. “The government restrictions at the moment are making it very difficult to give people a quality of life.”

He added: “We run care homes. We do not run prisons.”

Residents and relatives have been left distraught by the further restrictions. Before Christmas the health secretary, Sajid Javid, announced that in England any care home in outbreak should shut its doors to indoor visitors for up to 28 days after the last positive case, except for people designated as essential care givers or if a resident is at the end of life. Movements out of the care home should also be minimised, Javid said. It has meant thousands of families have only been able to see loved ones through windows or in visiting pods.

MHA, one of the largest not-for-profit providers, said on Monday that about of its care homes had had outbreaks that had restricted visiting. The Public Health Agency in Belfast reported that 120 care homes in Northern Ireland currently had outbreaks.

The reports suggest care home outbreaks in England are likely to jump sharply, from 250 as of 19 December, in the next UK Health and Security Agency figures.

But deaths from Covid in care homes in England, which accommodate 350,000 people, stood at 40 in the week to Christmas Eve, compared with a peak of about 1,800 in a week in January 2021. The latest NHS figures show 95% of care home residents in England have had two vaccine doses and 81% have been boosted.

Jenny Morrison, a co-founder of Rights for Residents campaign group, said: “The impact of loneliness and isolation has far outweighed the impact of Covid in the later part of the pandemic, so are we going to continue with these strict visiting policies? It’s completely disproportionate to what we are facing.”

Richardson said that since March 2021, 2,320 Four Seasons residents had died from all causes, and only 29 of them (1.25%) from Covid. Over that period the overall death rate has been below the four-year average prior to Covid.

Nadra Ahmed, the executive chair of the National Care Association, which represents independent operators, said more than a quarter of her members were facing staffing shortages because of the requirement to isolate for seven days after a positive PCR test. One operator has reported half of its staff off with positive tests or off sick.

“The other 50% of staff are exhausting themselves covering the shifts,” she said. Finding agency staff over Christmas was often impossible, and hourly rates had risen as high as £75, she said.

Nicola Richards, the chair of the Sheffield Care Association, said PCR test results were taking six days for staff at some local homes, which was “causing huge issues”.

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “Our priority continues to be the safety of care home residents and staff. We are doing everything we can to support care providers to facilitate safe visits.”

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



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


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



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



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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