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BBC Radio 4 - Medical Matters

Inside Health

Series that demystifies health issues, separating fact from fiction and bringing clarity to conflicting health advice.

Inside Health

  • Dispatches from University Hospital Southampton; Covid-19 and loss of smell; intensive care access; coronavirus home care
    When hospitals are full of patients, they're said to be "hot". The coronavirus crisis will push up the temperature of hospitals across the UK and in the first in a special series of weekly dispatches from the medical front line, producer Erika Wright will be taking the temperature of University Hospital Southampton - or The General - in Hampshire (which services almost two million people in the south of England) as they cope with the influx of Covid-19 patients. In this first dispatch, Erika talks to the Divisional Director for Medicine, Dr Trevor Smith, who says as patients have been moved out of this large teaching hospital to make space for coronavirus patients, the hospital's current temperature reading is "cold", but all staff know that this will soon change. This virus is deeply frightening for everybody, but often for older people and those with underlying health conditions it is even worse. The fear is that if hospitals are overflowing, then crude cut-offs by, for example, age, might determine who does or doesn't, get a a bed in intensive care. But Dr Mark Roberts, consultant in acute and geriatric medicine and chair of the British Geriatric Society in Northern Ireland, tells Claudia that health care professionals don't and wouldn't make such arbitrary decisions based on age. Instead, he says, decisions about access to intensive care beds (or in-patient care) will continue to be made at the bedside, with compassion, and with a focus on who has the greatest capacity to benefit. Some people have already decided that they won't go to hospital if NHS services are overwhelmed but they do want reassurance that they would get urgent care at home should they become seriously ill. Retired GP Dr Lyn Jenkins has written to the Prime Minister calling for this to be addressed as a priority. He's in good health, only 69 years old, but believes that he has a moral obligation not to use up scarce hospital resources if critical care beds can be given to younger people. For those who need it, he wants a quick response team to bring pain relief and supplementary oxygen and importantly, the presence of another person, a carer, so people who were very sick wouldn't be alone. GP and Inside Health regular Dr Margaret McCartney talks to Claudia about supplies of personal protective equipment and whether long-promised supplies are finally arriving and she delves into the evidence to find out whether the loss of a sense of smell or taste could be a symptom of coronavirus. Listener Rachel says she can't smell cheese, garlic or lavender oil and she's worried that she could have the virus. Producer: Fiona Hill

  • COVID-19 PPE; Secondary Pneumonia; Viral Load; Trauma Care in Fort William
    Margaret McCartney on COVID-19 and how the military has been deployed to get protective equipment supplies to critical care staff. Dean of the Faculty of Intensive Care Medicine, Dr Alison Pittard tells of the difficult ethical decisions staff are facing. And Professor Carl Heneghan - suffering from COVID-19 symptoms himself - explains the importance of fast action when treating secondary pneumonia in the elderly; while Deirdre Hollingsworth explains the term "Viral Load". Plus Margaret McCartney visits the famous Belford Hospital in Fort William - specialising in hostile environment trauma - and hears a story of intense mountain rescue.

  • Covid-19 Intensive Care Beds; Ibuprofen; Laser and Glaucoma; Faecal Incontinence
    The UK has one of the lowest numbers of critical care beds in Europe but as the coronavirus threatens to engulf us, drastic measures are being taken to increase capacity. Dean of the Faculty of Intensive Care Medicine, Dr Alison Pittard, tells Saleyha that the NHS has been asked to plan for doubling, trebling and then quadrupling the number of critical care beds. So far, health authorities in England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales have identified how they can increase the number of beds from just under 5,000 to around 10,000 but as Nicki Credland, Chair of the British Association of Critical Care Nurses says, increased beds mean more specialist intensive care nurses in numbers that can't be invented overnight. Additional non-specialist staff are being earmarked to help fully qualified intensive care nurses in the current virus crisis. Dr Margaret McCartney addresses the confusion around two medications: ibuprofen for viral symptoms and the potential risks to Covid-19 patients who are using ACE inhibitors for their high blood pressure or heart failure. Meanwhile away from coronavirus, Saleyha reports on new advances for the treatment of glaucoma, a condition which involves increased pressure to the eye and damage to the optic nerve. It's usually treated using eye drops, but laser treatment could be coming to a hospital near you. Saleyha watches as Gus Gazzard, Professor of Ophthalmology at University College London, uses a laser to treat the high pressure in Veenay Shah's right eye. Evidence from the LiGHT trial, which showed the laser works for newly diagnosed glaucoma patients, is likely to lead to new NICE guidelines which could give patients the choice: eye drops or laser. Faecal incontinence is one of the most debilitating conditions and patients can go for years without even seeking help. But at Sandwell General Hospital in West Bromwich, a revolutionary non-surgical approach is transforming lives. Called the FINCH service, Lead Nurse Kelly Stackhouse, colorectal consultant Rajeev Peravali and patients 21-year-old Lara and 74-year-old John, tell Saleyha how the new approach works. Producer: Fiona Hill

  • Coronavirus Special
    Inside Health gets exclusive access into Ysbyty Gwynedd, the Bangor emergency department, to see how they are preparing staff to deal with coronavirus patients arriving at the front door. Although advice is for patients to stay at home and call 111, some will be sick enough to need hospital admission. For that outcome, staff need to be properly fitted for face masks and trained in putting on personal protection equipment or PPE. Saleyha works in the department and Inside Health follows her getting kitted out with the help of Tim Hamilton Jones, an ED staff nurse tasked with the job of getting everyone ‘fit tested’. GP Dr Margaret McCartney talks about the evidence on face masks and the different types that are out there and gives the latest information on the incubation period for COVID19. It’s estimated that 80% of cases will be able to recover at home but 20% may need hospital care. Reports coming from Italy describe the demand on intensive care beds for patients with coronavirus because of the disease’s potential impact on the lungs. Dr Alison Pittard, Dean of the Faculty of Intensive Care and herself a practising ITU consultant in Leeds tells Inside Health about plans for increasing critical care bed capacity, in the NHS. The service is however already stretched before the disease has even taken hold here. As the government works out a plan of action to support the NHS to cope at this time, Inside Health talks to the British Red Cross, already working in hospitals across Wales, about supporting staff during the normal pressures, even before coronavirus struck. We hear from support workers within the Emergency Department and get an insight into what they do. Producer, Erika Wright

  • Hard Sell for Private Cataract Surgery; Language in Healthcare; Specialist Medical Travel Clinic
    Inside Health hears from two patients, Surinder Biant and Sam Begum who went for a free eye check up with Optical Express. Both were surprised by a diagnosis of cataracts when previous eye tests hadn't uncovered these. Both felt that they were given a hard sell and felt pressurised to have cataract surgery and both had independent second opinions which brought the diagnosis and proposed treatment into question. And the President of the Royal College of Ophthalmologists, Mike Burdon, explains what cataracts are and how doctor and patient can decide together when surgery is required. GP and regular Inside Health contributor, Dr Margaret McCartney talks about the language we use in healthcare which blames both patients and doctors unfairly. Words and phrases like "compliance", "bed-blocker" and "unnecessary admissions" are singled out as particular culprits. The travel clinic at The Hospital for Tropical Diseases in London aims to help people with complex medical conditions get to where they need or want to go for work, family or just some winter sun. We meet Elisabeth, who is partially sighted and wants to travel to East Africa with her grandson; Robert who has lymphoma but is far more concerned that he won't be able to fly to a country he loves, Japan, and to Robin, who wants to start a career in Uganda but is allergic to some of the components of essential vaccines. Dr Nicky Longley, consultant in infectious disease and travel medicine runs the clinic. Producer: Fiona Hill