Health

Fat people and smokers could be bumped up NHS waiting lists because of new software

Talk about a weight-ing list! Obese people could be bumped up NHS queue for elective care by new software that may also deprioritise middle class patients

  • A NHS trust in Coventry, Warwickshire, has developed an ‘agile waiting list’ 
  • The software will allow trusts to prioritise patients on the list by their weight
  • Trust could also bump up those from poorer background or people who smoke 

Fat people and smokers could be bumped up NHS waiting lists by new software that may also deprioritise middle class patients.

Dozens of trusts are looking to adopt the new ‘agile waiting list’ that prioritises people based on their health and risk factors, rather than how long they’ve waited.

Its developers say it could mean a patient who smokes cigarettes or is obese could be prioritised over someone who has queued longer.

Another example could be someone from a deprived area being pushed ahead of another patient with similar needs from an affluent neighbourhood.

The computer programme has been developed by University Hospital Coventry and Warwickshire Trust, where it is currently being piloted.

Trusts are looking for ways to use technology to help them get through record backlogs for routine treatment that have amassed during Covid. 

Professor Kiran Patel, UHCWT medical director, said trusts will be able to weight particular patients based on ‘social value judgements’.

Fat people and smokers could be bumped up NHS waiting lists by new software that may also deprioritise middle class patients. Dozens of trusts are looking to adopt the new ‘agile waiting list’ that prioritise people based on their health and risk factors, rather than how long they’ve waited

University Hospital Coventry (pictured) and Warwickshire Trust developed the 'agile waiting list' and is trialling it

University Hospital Coventry (pictured) and Warwickshire Trust developed the ‘agile waiting list’ and is trialling it

More than a million teens in England now prescribed antidepressants 

More than a million prescriptions for antidepressants are written for teenagers in England each year, official figures suggest.

The number of drugs doled out to 13 to 19-year-olds rose by a quarter between 2016 and 2020, latest NHS data shows.

It includes prescriptions up to the end of 2020, following a year of national Covid lockdowns and school and university closures. 

An increasing amount of evidence is beginning to accrue showing that virus restrictions took a heavy toll on young people’s mental health.

The NHS data — obtained through a Freedom of Information (FOI) request — also show antidepressants use rose sharply among adults in their 20s.

Mental health and children’s charities told MailOnline the data was an ‘alarming sign’ of a mental health crisis in Britain.

They warned some young people may have been given drugs by GPs because they can’t get counselling due to pandemic backlogs.

The software — which is attracting interest from around 70 trusts — was showcased at an internal NHS England webinar last month. 

It is already being used at the trust in Coventry and Warwickshire, which covers more than a million patients in the Midlands.

But critics have warned that ‘social values’ could be hard to define and subjective. 

A record 6.5million people are currently  in the queue for routine treatment in England.

That number is expected to keep rising for another two years as patients flood back into the NHS following delays during the pandemic.

Hundreds of thousands of patients have been waiting longer than a year and hospitals are struggling to meet the Government’s promise to axe two-year waits by the end of this month.

Former Health Secretary Sajid Javid — who resigned on the 74th NHS’s birthday on Tuesday — last month promised to digitise the health service, claiming it currently works like ‘Blockbuster in the age of Netflix’.

Professor Patel said NHS England’s current elective care strategy, which prioritises the longest waiters first, is ‘fuelling’ health inequalities.

The new agile waiting lists could help in ‘levelling up’ healthcare, he claimed. 

Explaining the software, Professor Patel told the Health Service Journal (HSJ): ‘You can put a different weighting on different factors. So, for example, we have slightly weighted postcodes.

‘Likewise, if you have patients who smoke, have hypertensive or are overweight, you can use those factors to weight the position on the waiting list [potentially pushing these patients forward on the list].’

He said the algorithm can reschedule the waiting list every day, rather than scheduling an 18-week wait for everyone, as is current practice at the trust.

Long waiting times will still ‘trump’ other factors, like weight and wealth, Professor Patel said.

But if the difference was between 19 weeks and 14 weeks, someone from a poorer area who had been waiting less could be bumped up the list, he suggested.

More affluent patients wait an average of four weeks less for orthopedic surgery under the current system — but the new algorithm could help equalise this, he said. 

But a senior figure at a different trust, who asked to remain anonymous, warned trusts’ having their own ideas of who to prioritise ‘could be challenged’.

They said: ‘Most people would accept a wait for someone “more needy”, but we may all have different opinions about how that need is defined.’ 

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