Innovations in health care

Two doctors looking at an iPad screen

In recent years there have been some amazing developments in the treatments that can be offered on the NHS – did you know that they now have pills you can swallow to show your insides without having to go through unpleasant tube insertions? This is even more impressive because of the current situation with the Covid-19 pandemic. It demonstrates that the NHS is always working to improve health and treatment despite being in the front line of dealing with a national crisis.

Below I highlight just three developments that will improve and save lives going forward.

Capsule cameras trial

An initial group of 11,000 across the country will receive the capsule. The colon capsule endoscopy can provide a cancer diagnosis within a few hours of being swallowed.

The normal process for a colonoscopy is a procedure in hospital where a camera tube is inserted and the bowel viewed by the operator. This takes time out for the patient’s day and requires a room in hospital and staff to assist as well as manage the procedure. The capsule is swallowed at home and the person can go about their normal day. Photographs are taken; two per second and these are sent to a data recorder in a shoulder bag that the patient carries with them.  The capsule takes about 5 to 8 hours and provides full images of the bowel.  The aim is to speed up the checks and to catch more cancers in the early stages when they can be easier to treat. This is really beneficial for vulnerable persons or those who are shielding or who would struggle to get to hospital. They can have the test without leaving their home. I know which I would choose if given the option between a colonoscopy or a capsule to swallow!

Professor Peter Johnson, NHS Clinical Director for Cancer says, “The NHS message to anyone experiencing symptoms is clear – do not delay, help us to help you by coming forward for care – the NHS is ready and able to treat you.”

https://www.england.nhs.uk/2021/03/nhs-rolls-out-capsule-cameras-to-test-for-cancer/

Spinal Muscular Atrophy treatment

 Zolgensma is the world’s most expensive drug, costing £1.79m per dose. It treats babies and young children with this rare and often fatal degenerative disorder.

This drug stops the progression of spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) which causes loss of movement, muscle weakness and paralysis and is the main genetic cause of death in infants. 80 infants a year could benefit from the one dose of this drug which restores the function of a faulty gene that causes SMA. The most severe form of this condition gives a life expectancy of two years.

This is not a cure although it is hoped that if it is used before symptoms develop; it could come close to being a cure. In infants who have symptoms it means that they can breathe without needing a ventilator. They will be able to sit up, crawl and even walk. Benefits could last for 5 years after treatment.

More than 60,000 children are diagnosed with SMA a year. The NHS worked hard to negotiate a sum for Zolgensma which is confidential but fair for taxpayers. This one-dose gene therapy offers an insight into other such drugs that could help families in the future with other genetic conditions.

This is an incredible innovation that will enable families to have some normality in their lives. It is not felt to be a cure, but is so much better than the present option for suffers of SMA.

https://www.theguardian.com/society/2021/mar/08/nhs-use-worlds-most-expensive-drug-treat-spinal-muscular-atrophy-zolgensma

 Cystic Fibrosis Life changing treatment

Cystic Fibrosis (CF) Is a genetic disorder that affects mostly the lungs. It can also affect the pancreas, liver, kidneys an intestine. Long term issues include difficulty breathing and coughing up mucus as a result of frequent lung infections. Most cases in the UK are picked up at birth using the new born.  screening heel prick test. Symptoms start in early childhood but can vary from child to child but the condition gets worse overtime with damage caused to the lungs and digestive system. It can reduce life expectancy.

A landmark deal has been negotiated by the European Medicines Agency which means that conditions will be able to start prescribing a triple combination treatment. Kaftrio Is used to treat people with CF who are aged over 12 and have a specific mutation. It is hoped that it will increase life expectancy in those suffers. It improves lung function and energy. It may also reduce the need for a lung transplant either completely or delay it for a much longer time.

NHS Chief Executive Simon Stevens  says, “The triple therapy is the latest improvement in care which will help thousands of people with CF lead longer, healthier lives and shows once again that where drug companies are prepared to work flexibly with the NHS we can deliver life-changing medicines.”

https://www.england.nhs.uk/2020/06/nhs-patients-among-first-in-europe-to-benefit-from-landmark-deal-for-cystic-fibrosis-treatment/

There are many other developments under investigation or in progress. The NHS is continually striving to provide new treatments and safer and less uncomfortable alternatives to some investigations. This can only benefit all of us both now and in the future. I hope that in years to come; cures will be available for many conditions which are not yet possible; including cancer.