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Blood test for Alzheimer’s disease could be as accurate as painful lumbar puncture, study suggests | Science & Tech News

A blood test could be just as good at detecting the signs of Alzheimer’s disease as painful and invasive lumbar punctures, research suggests.

Measuring levels of a protein called p-tau217 in the blood could be just as accurate at detecting signs of the progressive condition, experts say.

The protein is a marker for biological changes in the brain for people with Alzheimer’s disease, which is a form of dementia.

The new findings have the potential to “revolutionise” diagnosis for people who are suspected to have Alzheimer’s, experts say.

It could also be better than a range of other tests currently under development.

In the study of 786 people, the researchers were able to use the ALZpath p-tau217 test to identify patients as likely, intermediate and unlikely to have Alzheimer’s disease.

** HOLD FOR RELEASE/PUBLICATION DATE TBD FOR MEDICAL WRITER MARILYNN MARCHIONE STORY ** Dr. William Burke goes over PET brain scan Tuesday, Aug. 14, 2018 at Banner Alzheimers Institute in Phoenix. It may be too late to stop Alzheimer's in people who already have some mental decline but Banner is conducting two studies that target the very earliest brain changes while memory and thinking skills are still intact in hope of preventing the disease. (AP Photo/Matt York).
Image:
Images from an Alzheimer’s brain scan. File pic: AP

“This study is a hugely welcome step in the right direction as it shows that blood tests can be just as accurate as more invasive and expensive tests at predicting if someone has features of Alzheimer’s disease in their brain,” said Dr Richard Oakley, associate director of research and innovation at the Alzheimer’s Society.

“Furthermore, it suggests results from these tests could be clear enough to not require further follow-up investigations for some people living with Alzheimer’s disease, which could speed up the diagnosis pathway significantly in future.

“However, we still need to see more research across different communities to understand how effective these blood tests are across everyone who lives with Alzheimer’s disease.”

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Test could turn tide on devastating disease

This is a significant step towards a screening test for Alzheimer’s.

It detects a protein in the blood that is also found in the brains of people with the disease.

And the Swedish researchers say it is as accurate as existing tests.

At the moment Alzheimer’s is diagnosed either with special PET brain scans or samples of spinal fluid. The NHS doesn’t have enough machines or specialist staff to do that at the scale required.

It means that even if people ever get a diagnosis, it often comes when the disease has significantly progressed.

That matters because there are drugs coming down the tracks that have been shown in clinical trials to significantly slow the decline in memory and brain function.

But they have to be given at an early stage to be effective. That’s why doctors are excited about this test.

It needs to be validated in bigger clinical trials and in a diverse population.

But the hope is that in the near future it could be offered every few years to everyone over 50 to turn the tide on a devastating disease.

‘Huge potential’

Currently the only way to prove someone has a build-up of the proteins in the brain is to have a lumbar puncture or amyloid PET scan, which are available in only about one in 20 NHS memory clinics.

A lumbar puncture involves a needle being inserted into the lower back, between the bones in the spine.

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November 2022: New Alzheimer’s drug may be too late for some

Dr Sheona Scales, director of research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said: “This study suggests that measuring levels of a protein called p-tau217 in the blood could be as accurate as currently used lumbar punctures for detecting the biological hallmarks of Alzheimer’s disease, and superior to a range of other tests currently under development.

“This adds to a growing body of evidence that this particular test has huge potential to revolutionise diagnosis for people with suspected Alzheimer’s.”

However, she said a better picture is needed of how these types of blood tests perform day-to-day in real-world healthcare systems.

The study from Dr Nicholas Ashton at the University of Gothenburg, and colleagues, is published in the Jama Neurology journal.

RSV vaccine could cut baby hospital admissions by more than 80%, study suggests | Science & Tech News

A vaccine to combat a common seasonal virus among babies could reduce hospital admissions by more than 80%, a trial has shown.

Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) impacts 90% of children before they reach the age of two, often causing a mild cold-like illness.

But infection can also lead to severe lung problems like pneumonia, and an estimated 30,000 babies and youngsters are admitted to hospital in the UK each year – putting extra pressure on the NHS.

Scientists have said a jab called nirsevimab could offer a solution after a study suggested a single shot provided immediate protection against chest infections for up to six months.

The trial found this could lead to an 83% reduction in RSV-related hospital admissions.

It is already being rolled out in the US and Spain and is being considered for a UK rollout, where it has been approved but not yet made available on the NHS.

Experts who worked on the study said the findings showed it was safe and could protect thousands of babies.

What is nirsevimab?

Nirsevimab is a monoclonal antibody, which are man-made proteins designed to mimic the human immune system’s natural antibodies.

Like other vaccines, it is administered via an injection.

The study included 8,058 babies up to the age of 12 months, with a randomly assigned group of them given a single dose and the others given usual treatment.

Just 11 who got the jab ended up in hospital for RSV-related infections, compared to 60 in the standard group.

The researchers said this corresponded to an efficacy of 83.2%.

Jab could ‘dramatically’ help NHS

Sir Andrew Pollard, director of the Oxford Vaccine Group at the University of Oxford, said the jab could help combat a virus that places “huge pressure” on Britain’s health system.

During the past two winters, cases were higher than usual after COVID pandemic measures in previous years suppressed cases – meaning children had much lower immunity.

Sir Andrew said the jab could help “protect the youngest in society and dramatically alleviate winter strain in the NHS”.

One of the scientists involved in the study, Professor Saul Faust from the University of Southampton, said he hoped it would help the UK decide on how to proceed with a national vaccination rollout.

The University of Southampton was one of three UK universities whose experts worked on the research, along with University Hospital Southampton and St George’s University Hospital, London.

The research was funded by Sanofi and AstraZeneca and published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Rishi Sunak suggests more tax cuts are on the way – but refuses to commit to triple lock manifesto pledge | Politics News

Rishi Sunak has suggested more tax cuts are on the way because the economy has “turned a corner”.

The prime minister told reporters that while he would not comment on specifics, trimming taxes was “the direction of travel from this government”.

But it came as he refused to say if the pensions triple lock would be in the next Conservative Party manifesto – despite Downing Street insisting in September that it was “committed” to the policy.

Mr Sunak’s comments echo similar remarks by his ministers in recent weeks.

Chancellor Jeremy Hunt also said last month that the economy had “turned a corner” just before he unveiled a cut to National Insurance in the Autumn Statement.

However, four million people could also end up paying higher taxes if their wages rise after the government decided to continue the freeze on tax thresholds.

Reports suggest the Conservatives are considering additional cuts in 2024 as the party tries to woo voters and reduce Labour’s 20-point lead in opinion polls ahead of the next general election, which must take place by January 28 2025.

Cuts to stamp duty and inheritance tax are among the options reportedly being looked at by ministers.

When asked about the two policies, Mr Sunak said: “I would never comment on specific taxes. But what I will just say, though, is we have turned a corner.

“We have got inflation down, as I said we would, we have grown the economy and we are now focused on controlling spending and controlling welfare so we can cut taxes. So when we can do more, we will.”

He added: “We want to grow the economy, we want to reward people’s hard work and aspirations and cut their taxes responsibly. That is the direction of travel from this government.

“If you want controlled public spending, controlled welfare and your taxes cut, then vote Conservative.”

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Mr Sunak was unable to make similar promises about the triple lock, which ensures the state pension must rise every April by whichever is highest out of average earnings, inflation or 2.5%.

The policy has come under fire in recent months by critics who claim it has become too expensive and gives the government less financial “headroom” to deal with economic shocks.

Some senior Tories have called for it to be scrapped and Labour has refused to guarantee the triple lock will remain in place if it wins the next election.

While the government continued with the policy in its recent Autumn Statement, ensuring the state pension will rise by 8.5% in April 2024 to £221.20 a week, Mr Sunak refused to be drawn when asked directly if it would be in the next Tory manifesto.

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Analysis: Autumn Statement 2023

Speaking to journalists as he flew between the UK and Dubai for the COP28 summit, he replied: “[I’m] definitely not going to start writing the manifesto on the plane, as fun as that would be.”

Mr Sunak acknowledged there had been “some scepticism” about if policy was going to form part of the Autumn Statement, but said its inclusion had been “a signal of our commitment to look after our pensioners who have put a lot into our country”.

Conservatives losing more 2019 voters to Reform UK than Labour, poll suggests | Politics News

Only one in 10 voters who supported the Tories in 2019 have switched to Labour, according to a major new poll for Sky News.  

The exclusive YouGov survey of 5,621 voters found 11% of 2019 Tory voters would now vote for Labour while slightly more – 12% – have switched to Reform UK, a party to the right of the Conservatives.

The fact that Labour is attracting fewer former Tory votes than Reform shows the difficulty Sir Keir Starmer’s party is having in getting Tory switchers.

Politics latest: PM says staffers are happy to work in No 10

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Graphics for Sam Coates polling story 1/11/23

Less than half – 40% – of 2019 Tory voters say they are sticking with the Conservatives if there was an election tomorrow, while 23% don’t know and 7% would not vote.

Former Tory voters from the 2019 campaign are perhaps the most important battleground for Conservative strategists at the next election, and their messaging and policy is designed to target this group in particular.

Some 44% of voters chose the Conservatives in the 2019 election, and this has dropped to 24% now.

So what happens to the ex-Tory voters – and whether they ultimately return to the party – is key.

Graphics for Sam Coates polling story 1/11/23

The fact that only a small number have changed their allegiance to Labour gives the Tories a small ray of hope at a time when they are hugely behind in the polls – although even if they perform as well as possible in this group, they would still struggle to win.

The YouGov polling drills down into the views of 2019 Tory voters who now call themselves undecided. Here there are positive signs for the Conservatives.

Rishi Sunak gets a net positive rating, scoring +7 percentage points, which is much more positive than the public at large. However, Keir Starmer gets a very negative rating, which is much worse than the population as a whole.

Graphics for Sam Coates polling story 1/11/23

For the average voter, the most important subjects are the economy, health and asylum.

However, among undecided voters who supported the Tories in 2019, immigration is the top issue, even marginally higher than the economy.

This is why the Tories are targeting immigration as one of their biggest issues.

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Graphics for Sam Coates polling story 1/11/23

Patrick English, who conducted the poll for YouGov, said these were a “crucial set of voters”.

“When you really drill down into what type of voters these are, who they are, what they think about issues, there do seem to be some encouraging numbers for the Conservatives,” he said.

“They rate Rishi Sunak higher than they rate Keir Starmer.”

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The pollster added: “They rate the Conservative Party higher than they do the Labour Party.

“They care about the issues the Conservatives want to talk about, such as immigration, to a much greater extent than those who are ready to make the jump to Labour.

“And that’s why at the moment we think only around one in 10 of them are telling us that they’re seriously considering voting Labour at the next election.”

COVID-19: 167,000 people may have caught coronavirus in hospital in England during second wave, study suggests | UK News

Up to 167,000 people may have contracted coronavirus in hospitals in England during the second wave of the pandemic, a study of healthcare-related infections has suggested.

Scientists who assessed COVID infections between June 2020 and March 2021 said their findings show how many cases started in hospitals and why, noting factors such as limited numbers of single rooms.

They concluded that hospitals needed to be better equipped to limit the transmission of future viruses.

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Bereaved families tell Hancock to go away

Hospital transmission puts vulnerable people at risk, affects healthcare workers and potentially drives transmission in the community.

But despite the obvious risks, there hasn’t been much work done to assess the extent of the problem.

A team from Oxford University, led by Professor of Epidemiology, Ben Cooper, have tried to put that right by studying data from 145 English NHS acute hospital trusts, representing a combined 356 hospitals with around 100,000 beds.

They looked at the number of COVID infections, how many staff working days were missed because of the virus and how the likely source of infection was classified at the time.

They found nearly 17,000 (16,950) infections in hospital patients were classed as having definite links to healthcare, and more than 19,000 (19,355) were thought to probably have a healthcare connection.

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Long COVID patient: ‘I lost my identity’

However, the researchers calculated that only around one in four (26%) of such infections might actually have been recorded, as many patients may have been discharged before testing positive, for example.

Once they factored that into their projections, they estimated that hospital-acquired infections in the period were between 95,000 and 167,000.

COVID ward at a hospital in Merseyside in 2020
Image:
COVID ward at a hospital in Merseyside in 2020

In other words, 1 to 2% of all hospital admissions likely resulted in such an infection over the study period.

Professor Cooper’s team found geographical variations in the incidence of infections, with the highest rates in northwest regions of England, and the lowest in the South West and London areas.

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They suggested the low availability of single rooms and reduced heating of hospital buildings could play a part.

The vaccination of healthcare workers was another driver of lower infection rates.

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COVID Inquiry: Bereaved families give statements

Their findings could show hospitals how to reduce transmissions, which in turn could protect vulnerable patients and healthcare workers, as well as reduce community transmission in the future, the authors said.

The COVID-19 public inquiry was told on Tuesday that fewer people might have died if lockdown had started sooner.

Rishi Sunak’s speech to Conservative conference fell flat with public, poll suggests | Politics News

Rishi Sunak’s speech at the Conservative Party conference fell flat with the British public, a new poll suggests.

During his speech, the prime minister confirmed his long-rumoured decision to scrap the northern leg of HS2 between Birmingham and Manchester and announced plans to introduce some of the strictest smoking laws in the world.

New polling for Politics Hub with Sophy Ridge by Find Out Now suggested the speech went down poorly among the public – if they even bothered to tune in at all.

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Sunak speech

Reaction to Mr Sunak’s decision to scrap HS2 beyond the West Midlands was more mixed among the public, though a majority of Conservative members said they believed it was the right decision.

HS2 announcement

Mr Sunak’s announcement of his intention to raise the legal smoking age by one year every year – meaning a 14-year-old today will never be able to buy a cigarette – garnered far more support.

Smoking age change

Asked to rate how well Mr Sunak was doing in his job as prime minister, the majority said they thought he was doing “badly”.

Do you think Rishi Sunak is doing well, or badly, in his job as prime minister?

The public’s feelings about the Conservative Party itself also appeared tepid.

How do you feel about the Conservative Party?

When asked who they would prefer to be Tory leader, half of Conservative members picked Mr Sunak.

Who would you prefer to be the leader of the Conservative party?

In second place behind the prime minister was Penny Mordaunt, Leader of the House of Commons and Lord President of the Privy Council, while Nigel Farage, the former UKIP and Brexit Party leader, came in third place.

Grocery price inflation falls for fifth month in a row, retail data suggests | Business News

Grocery price inflation has eased for the fifth month in a row – as the cost of some staples come down.

Closely watched data from Kantar Worldpanel, which tracks supermarket sales and bills, found that while the expense of a food shop is still higher than last year, the pace of price rises has been slowing down this summer.

Its researchers reported a grocery price inflation rate of 12.7% in the four weeks to 6 August – a 2.2 percentage point drop from the month before.

Kantar said a fall in the cost of some staples was a factor. It said shoppers paid £1.50 for four pints of milk last month, down from £1.69 in March.

The average cost of a litre of sunflower oil is now said to be £2.19 – 22 pence less than in the spring.

Kantar’s head of retail and consumer insight, Fraser McKevitt, said: “The latest slowdown in price rises is the second sharpest monthly fall since we started monitoring grocery inflation in this way back in 2008.

“Prices are still up year on year across every supermarket shelf, but consumers will have been relieved to see the cost of some staple goods starting to edge down compared with earlier in 2023.”

He said the average increase in households’ weekly grocery shop is £5.13, when compared with last year.

Researchers also found that the recent wet weather across much of the UK had an impact on supermarkets’ figures in July.

Sales of ice cream and Halloumi were down around 30% – while purchases of soft drinks fell by nearly a fifth.

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However sales of soup – traditionally seen as a winter warmer product – were up 16% year-on-year.

Kantar said the gloomy weather was also likely to have contributed to a drop in footfall, which was down for the first time in 18 months as people made 320,000 fewer trips to supermarkets compared to a year ago.

Overall take-home grocery sales rose by 6.5% in the four weeks to 6 August, down from 10.4% in the previous period.

But researchers said other supermarkets may soon benefit from the collapse of Wilko, which went into administration last week.

The chain’s 400 stores remain open – for now – but its long-term future is in doubt.

“Wilko is a popular choice for many shoppers with 7.6 million households visiting its stores to buy groceries in the last year,” said Mr McKevitt.

He added: “Wilko’s rivals will be keeping a close eye on its fortunes in the coming days and weeks as they look to draw some of its shoppers through their doors.”

Kantar’s research comes ahead of new official inflation figures, which are due to be released by the Office for National Statistics on Wednesday morning.

Last month it reported a bigger-than-expected drop in the rate to 7.9% in the year up to June.

The Bank of England then decided to raise interest rates for the 14th time in a row to 5.25% as part of attempts to bring inflation back down to its target of 2%.

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Economy more ‘resilient’ than expected

Inflation is expected to fall again this week, although experts believe it is unlikely the Bank will achieve its target this year.

The Bank of England’s chief economist, Huw Pill, also said last week that food prices may never fall back to the level they were before the war in Ukraine began.

Separate figures from the British Retail Consortium (BRC) earlier this month also suggested food price inflation has been falling in recent months, with the cost of some staples coming down.

But it warned the trend may not continue smoothly this year because there were “dark clouds on the horizon”.

The BRC said this included the potential impact on prices of Russia’s decision to pull out of a deal to allow the safe export of grain from Ukraine, as well as a ban by the Indian government on the export of some types of rice.

AI tools can ‘safely’ read breast cancer scans, preliminary study suggests | Science & Tech News

Artificial intelligence (AI) can “safely” read breast cancer screening images, a preliminary study suggests.

Researchers found computer-aided detection could spot cancer in mammograms – X-ray pictures of the breast – at a “similar rate” to two radiologists.

The NHS is already looking at how it can implement such technology in its breast screening programme.

However, the authors of the study said the results are “not enough on their own to confirm that AI is ready to be implemented in mammography screening”.

Previous studies into whether AI can accurately diagnose breast cancer in mammograms have been carried out retrospectively – where the technology assesses scans already examined by doctors.

But the new interim study pit AI-supported screening against standard care.

The randomised control trial, published in the journal Lancet Oncology, involved more than 80,000 women from Sweden with an average age of 54.

Half of the scans were assessed by two radiologists, known as standard care, while the other half were assessed by the AI-supported screening tool, followed by interpretation by one or two radiologists.

In total 244 women from AI-supported screening were found to have cancer compared with 203 women recalled from standard screening.

Also, the use of AI did not generate more “false positives” – where a scan is incorrectly diagnosed as abnormal. The false-positive rate was 1.5% in both the AI group and the group assessed by radiologists.

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AI could halve screening workload

Researchers said the use of AI could potentially almost halve the screening workload.

There were 36,886 fewer screen readings by radiologists in the AI-supported group compared with the group who received standard care, resulting in a 44% reduction in the screen-reading workload of radiologists, the authors said.

The study is continuing to assess whether AI tools can reduce cancers diagnosed between screenings, with the results not expected for a few years.

But the authors’ interim analysis concludes: “AI-supported mammography screening resulted in a similar cancer detection rate compared with standard double reading, with a substantially lower screen-reading workload, indicating that the use of AI in mammography screening is safe.”

Radiologists could be ‘less burdened by excessive amount of reading’

Lead author Dr Kristina Lang, from Lund University in Sweden, said: “These promising interim safety results should be used to inform new trials and programme-based evaluations to address the pronounced radiologist shortage in many countries, but they are not enough on their own to confirm that AI is ready to be implemented in mammography screening.

“We still need to understand the implications on patients’ outcomes, especially whether combining radiologists’ expertise with AI can help detect interval cancers that are often missed by traditional screening, as well as the cost-effectiveness of the technology.”

She added: “The greatest potential of AI right now is that it could allow radiologists to be less burdened by the excessive amount of reading.

“While our AI-supported screening system requires at least one radiologist in charge of detection, it could potentially do away with the need for double reading of the majority of mammograms, easing the pressure on workloads and enabling radiologists to focus on more advanced diagnostics while shortening waiting times for patients.”

NHS exploring implementing AI

Commenting on the study, an NHS spokesperson said: “The NHS is already exploring how AI could help in breast screening by enabling complicated image analysis very quickly and at scale, which, if proven effective, could in future help speed up diagnosis for many women, detect cancers at an earlier stage, and ultimately save more lives.

“This research is very encouraging, and plans are underway to assess the best ways of implementing this technology into the NHS Breast Screening Programme.”

Residents near airports may be slightly more at risk from symptoms linked to heart problems, study suggests | UK News

People living near to an airport may be slightly more susceptible to symptoms linked to heart problems, a university study has claimed.

A study conduced by Imperial College London looked at hospital admissions for cardiovascular diseases among residents whose homes are under Heathrow Airport’s flight paths.

They analysed research on figures recorded between 2014 and 2018.

According to a paper published in online journal Environment International, researchers found that there was a “small increase of risk” of being admitted to hospital for people who had experienced louder noise during the previous night.

It was revealed that men over the age of 65 were particularly affected.

So, what else did the study find?

The team of researchers found that aircraft noise can disrupt sleep and raise blood pressure as well as stress hormone levels – which are factors linked to heart problems.

However, evidence of an association between aircraft noise and deaths due to a heart attack was limited, although this could be attributed to a small sample size.

Researchers have said, the findings provide “potential” evidence that aircraft noise in the late evening and night-time may be associated with increased risk cardiovascular hospitalisations and deaths in the population living within the Heathrow Airport.

But more research is needed to understand the impact of aircraft noises.

The team added: “This is consistent with a mechanism of action via disturbed sleep and has implications for developing respite measures for the communities situated near busy airports.

“Further research into these potential respite mechanisms and behavioural interventions, including runway rotation and noise insulation initiatives, is needed to understand how best to translate the findings from this study into action.”

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Aircraft noise has been an issue during Heathrow’s long-running bid to gain permission to build a third runway.

Modern planes are a lot more quieter than previous models, but there are concerns that an increase in flights will cause more disturbance.

Heathrow has said reducing the impact of noise from flights is a vital part of its sustainability strategy.

Airport bosses have also said since 2006, they have reduced its noise footprint – the area where residents are exposed to aircraft noise.

Doctor warns price of baby formula is ‘national crisis’ – as Rishi Sunak suggests govt is doing enough to help | UK News

The price of baby formula is a “national crisis” which could have negative effects on the health of a child throughout its life, a doctor has said – as the prime minister suggested the government is doing enough to support families struggling to afford food.

Dr Vicky Thomas, a consultant paediatrician with a special interest in growth and nutrition, made the remarks after a Sky News report revealed parents have been stealing baby formula and turning to the black market as soaring prices drive them to desperation.

New data from First Steps Nutrition shows that the cost of the cheapest brand of formula milk has risen by 45% in the past two years.

Other brands have risen between 17% and 31% in that time period.

Dr Thomas has said if parents are struggling to afford formula for their infant it could be damaging to the child’s health for “the whole of the rest of their future”.

She said: “Nutrition in early infant life is absolutely key to your health.

“That’s when you lay down your good bacteria. That’s when your gut learns how to do what it needs to do.

“That’s when you build a healthy brain and healthy body.

“[Nutrition] is key to building a healthy body and it’s the body that the child is going to be using for the next eighty years or so.

“This is a national crisis.

“It should not be falling on individual parents, who have this guilt and shame, to have this worry.

“It’s a societal responsibility to raise a generation of healthy children.”

Two parents, who wished to remain anonymous, earlier told Sky News how they had resorted to shoplifting because they couldn’t afford formula.

Asked about the soaring cost of the product, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said today: “I know the cost of living is the number one challenge facing British families at the moment… With food in particular, which is of course something we want to help with, we’ve got to recognise right now there are challenges across Europe.

“We have particular support for young families, something called Healthy Start vouchers, which provide money to young families [to help] with the costs of fresh food.

“But also the Household Support Fund is £1bn that we’ve given to local councils.

“Families can go and talk to their council about getting that extra support.”

Read more:
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Desperate parents stealing baby formula to feed children

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Rishi Sunak reacts to baby formula theft

Despite Mr Sunak saying the government’s Healthy Start initiative is helping families, Rhiannon Evans, head of communications at the internet forum Mumsnet, has said the vouchers aren’t enough to cover baby formula.

She said: “I think part of the problem with the increase in the price is that even the cheapest brand of baby formula outstrips the value of the government’s Healthy Start vouchers.

“If those vouchers no longer cover the price, then they’re not really fit for purpose.”

Clare Murphy, the chief executive of the British Pregnancy Advice Service, added: “This is a scandal.

“People shouldn’t be facing these choices when they are simply trying to feed their baby safely… This shouldn’t be happening in 21st-century Britain.”

She continued: “It is appalling that we’re having this conversation that you are going out and finding these kind of stories.

“All these things that are happening are putting us on the brink of a public health crisis.”