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Does charging different user fees for primary and secondary care affect first-contacts with primary healthcare?

Policy-makers in many countries are increasingly considering charging people different fees for using primary and secondary care services (differential user charges). The aim of such 'differential fees' is to encourage use of primary health care in health systems with limited gate keeping.

We carried out a systematic review to evaluate the impact of introducing differential user charges on service utilisation. We reviewed studies published from January 1990 until June 2015. We extracted data from the studies meeting defined eligibility criteria and assessed study quality using an established checklist. We synthesized evidence narratively.

Eight studies from six countries met our eligibility criteria. The overall study quality was low, with diversity in populations, interventions, settings, and methods. Five studies examined the introduction of or increase in user charges for secondary care, with four showing decreased secondary care utilisation, and three showing increased pr…
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What will Brexit mean for the NHS?

On the 29 March 2017, the Prime Minister of the UK Theresa May, formally notified the European Union (EU) Council President, Donald Tusk, of the UK’s intention to leave the EU. Theresa May’s letter to Donald Tusk triggers a two-year process during which the UK will have to negotiate both the terms of its exit from EU and the arrangements that will replace those we have had for over 40 years with the other member states of the EU. The consequences of the United Kingdom’s departure from the EU (commonly referred to as ‘Brexit’) will be wide-ranging and will affect all areas of UK’s society, including the National Health Service (NHS).

For the NHS, Brexit comes at a time when it faces many other major challenges. These include severe financial pressures, rising workload, increased waiting times for both primary care and specialist services, and shortages of health professionals in many key areas (such as in general practice and in emergency departments). The NHS also faces challenges fr…

Gender identity and the management of the transgender patient: a guide for non-specialists

A recent article published in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine discusses the management of transgender patient. Transgender people, whose gender identities, expressions or behaviours differ from those predicted by their sex assigned at birth, are receiving increased attention both in the general media and in the medical press. Recent guidelines in the UK have proposed placing much of the responsibility of care for transgender patients on primary care physicians and their teams. With waiting lists for most gender identity clinics extending beyond 12 months and increasing numbers of patients coming forward for treatment, hospital doctors are also likely to encounter transgender patients in their clinical practice.

General Medical Council guidance published in 2016 recommended that general practitioners play a key role in the care of transgender patients. This includes counselling or appropriate referral (which can be done directly by general practitioners, without an interi…

National rules are needed about restriction of NHS prescriptions for drugs available over the counter

A recent news article in the BMJreported that many clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) in England are trying to restrict NHS prescriptions for drugs that are also available over the counter (OTC). This would include, for example, drugs such as antihistamines. This raises a number of issues. Firstly, CCGs have no legal power to limit the prescribing of drugs by GPs (although many CCGs and GPs don’t seem to know this). The only drugs that GPs are not allowed to prescribe are those listed in Part XVIIIA of the NHS Drug Tariff (sometimes referred to as the ‘blacklist’). 

Secondly, rather than going through a formal process and asking the Department of Health to place additional drugs on the ‘blacklist’, CCGs seem content to let doctors decide who should have these drugs on NHS prescription and who should not. This will inevitably lead to considerable variation between GPs in their propensity to prescribe these drugs, thereby leading to ‘postcode prescribing’. 

Thirdly, it also raises legal…

Interview with the British Medical Journal

The BMJ published an interview with me in March 2017 for their 'Observations' section.

What was your earliest ambition?
As a boy I was keen to be a pilot. My poor eyesight put an end to that ambition.

Who has been your biggest inspiration?
Two of my former consultants, James Stuart and Keith Cartwright, who mentored me early in my career, helped me write my first scientific papers, and started me on my academic career path.

What was the worst mistake in your career?
Early in my career I admitted a man who had undergone some changes in behaviour after a minor head injury. I did not consider ordering a CT scan immediately, but fortunately my senior registrar did, and a diagnosis of a subdural haematoma was made. The patient underwent surgery that evening and had a good outcome.

What was your best career move?
Moving to London in the 1990s to take up my first academic post. Although I was unsure about moving to such a large city, having always lived in much smaller towns, working in Lond…

Brexit may exacerbate shortages of health professionals in the UK

The UK’s departure from the European Union will have wide ranging consequences, including doctors leaving the country. As a member of the EU for over 40 years, the UK is fully linked with Europe in all sectors of its society. This includes the NHS, which faces major risks if it fails to tackle the challenges that Brexit poses.

The NHS has faced shortages in its clinical workforce for many decades and has relied heavily on doctors, nurses, and other health professionals who were trained overseas to fill the gaps. This reliance will not end in the foreseeable future. Jeremy Hunt, the health secretary for England, has announced that the government will support the creation of an additional 1500 medical student places at England’s medical schools, but these students won’t complete their medical courses and postgraduate medical training for over 10 years.

The recruitment of medical staff trained overseas has been facilitated by EU legislation on the mutual recognition of the training of h…

A woman with a suspected viral rash in pregnancy

My article in the BMJ considers how doctors should approach the management of a woman with a suspected viral rash during pregnancy. Key points in the article include:

Consider country of origin in a woman presenting with a rash in pregnancy and ask for immunisation history.Test for measles and rubella IgM and IgG antibodies, particularly if immunisation history is not clear.Refer women with an active infection to the fetal medicine unit for fetal monitoring.
The full article can be read in the BMJ.