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NHS to receive extra £200m ahead of winter amid record waiting lists | UK News

The NHS will receive a £200m boost from the government ahead of the busiest months of the year for them.

The winter resilience fund is aimed at supporting the health service so it can attend to patients as quickly as possible amid record waiting lists.

Last month, NHS England said 7.6 million people were waiting to start treatment at the end of June – the highest number since records began in August 2007.

The additional money will help hospitals keep up with pre-planned surgeries and operations to cut down the list, according to officials.

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NHS treatment list at record high

Both the government and NHS England set an ambition of eliminating all waits of more than 18 months by April this year.

However, that excluded exceptionally complex cases or where patients chose to wait longer.

Winter is a hectic time for the NHS with COVID, flu, and respiratory illnesses common during the season, with some health commentators saying last winter was one of the worst on record for the health service.

They welcomed the extra cash but have questioned how far it will stretch amid upcoming strikes by doctors and consultants.

For the first time in NHS history, joint walkouts were announced over pay disputes.

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NHS strike action escalates

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Alongside the winter fund, the government announced a £40m investment in social care, with local authorities being urged to bid for a share of the cash.

Ministers also injected £250m into the NHS last month as part of the two-year Urgent and Emergency Care Recovery plan which promised 5,000 additional beds, 800 new ambulances, and 10,000 virtual wards.

Officials said progress has been made compared to last July including faster emergency ambulance response times and more availability of general, acute, and virtual beds.

NHS England had also announced plans to introduce social care “traffic control centres” to help speed up hospital discharges for patients no longer needing to be in the wards.

Speaking about the new subsidy, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said: “Winter is the most challenging time for the health service, which is why we’ve been planning for it all year – with huge government investment to fund new ambulances, beds and virtual wards.

“This extra £200 million will bolster the health service during its busiest period, while protecting elective care so we can keep cutting waiting lists.”

Government left 1.7 million people waiting for energy support due to a ‘lack of bandwidth’ | Business News

Millions of people were left waiting too long for energy support due to a lack of government “bandwidth”, according to a report from the cross-party Public Accounts Committee.

More than a million households became eligible for support too late, while a further two million homes using prepayment meters have yet to redeem their £400 voucher, according to the committee report on the energy bills support scheme.

As many as 900,000 households only became eligible for the £400-off energy bills support scheme in late February, nearly five months after consumers began receiving discounts on the main scheme, the report says. Those were houses without a direct relationship with an electricity supplier, including those living in park homes or on boats.

A further 836,000 residences in Northern Ireland only began receiving their £400 off energy bills in January 2023, three months later than in the rest of the UK.

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There were a remaining two million households in Great Britain on prepayment meters in February yet to redeem vouchers for their £400 payment, the report added.

The department tasked with administering the payments – the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) – told the committee it did not have the bandwidth to make sure support reached all groups in a timely way.

It acknowledged it is also the duty of electricity suppliers to ensure vouchers are redeemed.

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What is the energy price cap and how does it affect you?

While the department has since been split up, the committee said it should analyse which groups of households have not redeemed their vouchers and outline further action to increase retrieval rates.

“Serious concerns” were raised over the government’s “lack of urgency” in addressing the energy market failures that are leading to high energy bills for consumers, the report says.

“The Treasury and [the new Department for Energy Security and Net Zero] have also not fully grasped the pressures the non-domestic sector will face after the energy bill relief scheme ended in March 2023, or the potential risk of insolvencies,” it says.

The universal nature of the energy support was criticised in the report as homes and businesses that did not need support received it anyway.

Despite the plans in operation last winter, the government is not prepared for the coming winter, according to the committee.

“Almost halfway through the year we have not yet seen plans to ensure energy affordability for the coming winter,” committee chair Dame Meg Hillier said.

“As a matter of urgency, the government must show it’s clear not just on how households and businesses will be protected in any future price rises, but how to ensure resilience in the sector as a whole.”

The government has also been urged to invest any unspent resources on helping low-income and vulnerable homes by the chief executive of National Energy Action.

“That should support more than 2.5 million low-income and vulnerable households who are no longer receiving any government support,” Adam Scorer said.

“Without more targeted support this autumn and winter these households will be exposed to the worst of this ongoing crisis with all the dreadful consequences for health and wellbeing that we have seen day in and day out in recent times.”

‘Enough is enough – I need to grieve for my son’: Chris Kaba’s family are tired of waiting for answers after his death | UK News

Six months since Chris Kaba’s death, his parents Prosper and Helen are still not able to mourn their loss.

They sat down with me ahead of a community event commemorating their son’s death in Streatham Hill, south London.

We’re sitting on white chairs in front of a blue balloon arch that frames a mounted picture of their son with the words “Justice for Chris Kaba” printed on it.

There’s a table underneath which also has three photographs of the 24-year-old, including one of him as a baby.

Chris was a dad-to-be but he never got to meet his baby daughter, who was born after his death, just days before his funeral.

Raising their granddaughter while mourning their son has been heartbreaking, his parents tell me.

“It’s really difficult,” Helen says.

Prosper, who has just returned from Congo, where extended family are also mourning Chris’s passing, adds: “What will I tell my granddaughter one day when she asks me: ‘Where’s my dad? What happened to my dad?’

“What can I say?”

Justice for Chris Kaba gathering

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Questions plague the family’s minds.

Prosper and Helen are clutching each other’s hands tightly. They are united in grief that is palpable – they’ve been through an extraordinary amount together over the past six months.

They learned of their son’s death by phone call, watching bodycam footage of the incident, and have been told to wait for answers which may be delivered by the police watchdog.

‘We want the truth’

The Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) has been investigating Chris’s death and is expected to deliver its report within the next three months.

But the family’s patience is wearing thin.

Helen tells us: “We want the truth.

“We want to know what happened and why and how.

“I need the answer.

“I’ve been waiting for six months, I can’t wait for another six months.

“Enough is enough, I need an answer.

“I need to grieve for my son.

“Enough is enough, enough is enough.

“We can’t wait any longer, we need answers.

“We need a verdict, we need to grieve for Chris.”

Chris Kaba pictured as a boy. He died after being shot by police
Chris Kaba pictured as a boy

‘All of it has been hurting hard’

When I ask them about not being able to mourn his loss yet, they both shake their heads vigorously.

Prosper explains: “How are we meant to grieve without any justice?

“We want answers for our questions: our boy was killed – why?

“It’s been hard, very hard.

“All of it has been hurting hard.

“My family is devastated, my life is devastated. There is no more life.”

They both emphasise their need for answers.

“Why should it take six months?” Prosper says.

Chris Kaba's funeral
Chris Kaba’s funeral was in November

Some 60 people gathered at the New Park Road Baptist Church on Saturday night to show their solidarity with the family.

A video compilation of images and videos of Chris play on repeat via a projector as one by one, Chris’ cousin, Jefferson, and then his mother, and then father addressed the group.

The church is just a four-minute walk from where Chris was shot.

After sharing experiences, the group decide to retrace Chris’s route on the night of the 5 September 2022 to Kirkstall Gardens.

Supporters of the Kaba family after a memorial to remember Chris

They sang, chanted and held a minute’s silence in his memory – all holding candles.

Some cried and others stood in silence on the quiet residential road just before 10pm, around the time of the shooting six months ago.

They may face a long legal road ahead but their yearning for answers deepens and their voices are loud.

IOPC ‘awaiting an external report’

On the anniversary of Chris’s death, many are on tenterhooks waiting for the IOPC’s findings.

An IOPC spokesperson told us: “We are confident that our investigation into the circumstances surrounding the fatal shooting of Chris Kaba will conclude with the six-to-nine-month timeframe we specified at the outset.

“We are awaiting an external report which we require in order to conclude our investigation, finalise our report and then decide whether or not to refer a file of evidence to the Crown Prosecution Service for a charging decision.

“We continue to provide regular updates to representatives for the Kaba family in line with the IOPC policy.”

People on mental health waiting lists cautioned not to turn to chatbots | Science & Tech News

People waiting months for mental health treatment have been cautioned against turning to chatbots as a quick alternative.

One in four patients are now waiting more than 90 days between their first and second appointments for NHS talking therapy treatment, according to analysis by charity Future Care Capital (FCC).

The free sessions, delivered by fully trained and accredited practitioners, are meant to support those who suffer from conditions like anxiety and depression.

But thousands of people are facing long delays, with demand for treatment having risen since the pandemic.

A recent survey by the FCC found 87% of people struggling with their mental health were now using apps to get help, with 31% leaning on such tools because they did not want to wait for face-to-face support.

Dr Lauren Evans, director of research and innovation at FCC, said such resources had a role to play but cautioned against the use of increasingly popular chatbots, which have been tipped as an alternative to search engines.

“Although chatbots have been used for a while to direct telephone enquiries or provide basic information, it is an entirely different endeavour to gauge not only what somebody is saying, but the way they are saying it and what that might entail,” she told Sky News.

Digital tools ‘must be tested to high standards’

Since the pandemic, Google has reported an increase in the number of searches related to mental health, notably depression and anxiety.

People are also turning to social media to find support. Research by Luna, an app designed to help teenagers with mental health struggles, suggests more than eight in 10 young people are using TikTok to diagnose their troubles.

According to the FCC’s survey, people are now more than twice as likely to find a digital mental health tool on social media than through their GP.

Chatbots specifically released to be digital therapists have also grown in popularity in recent years – examples include Woebot and Wysa, which are both highly rated on Apple and Google’s app stores.

But new language models like the successful ChatGPT from OpenAI are not designed for this purpose. Despite this, asking questions about mental health will still see it confidently deliver an answer – even if it’s wrong.

Dr Evans warned: “Any such technology needs to be subjected to rigorous testing with high standards – and it could prove to be revolutionary.

“But it should not be implemented in place of face-to-face treatment with a medical professional.”

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Will this chatbot replace humans?

‘People want the human touch’

UK charity Samaritans, which operates a free 24/7 helpline for people who are struggling, has also stressed the importance of human interaction when seeking mental health support.

Kay, a volunteer who signed up after receiving help during her own struggle with anxiety, told Sky News: “I don’t think chatbots would be entirely helpful, because you just don’t know what call you’re going to take.

“When people talk, they want the human touch, to feel they’re talking to a real person who can empathise.”

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Patients of mental health units tell their story

Guide to digital mental health resources

In a bid to ensure those who do seek help online find an appropriate resource, the FCC has launched a new comprehensive guide that directs people towards trusted apps and platforms.

The digital mental health tools guide allows users to filter resource based on conditions like addiction, anxiety, stress, body dysmorphia, eating disorders, and self-esteem.

“Digital tools are not a substitute for in-person mental health treatment,” Dr Evans stressed, “but can be used in conjunction with professional support and may help people waiting between treatment sessions.”

Anyone feeling emotionally distressed or suicidal can call Samaritans for help on 116 123 or email in the UK. In the US, call the Samaritans branch in your area or 1 (800) 273-TALK

Virtual hospital wards no substitute for real people, says patient waiting for hip operation | UK News

Carlo Zamboni used to climb in the Scottish Highlands in the school holidays.

Today, crossing his small flat is a mission for the retired teacher. Nudging 70, he’s on the NHS waiting list for a hip operation and a diagnosis to confirm the Parkinson’s disease his hand tremors suggest.

We were speaking to him as NHS England said it was planning to free up space by treating up to 50,000 elderly and vulnerable patients in “virtual wards” at home.

Three months ago a fall put Carlo in hospital.

“I fell over in a graveyard, lost my balance for some reason,” he said. “I was suspected of possibly developing Parkinson’s disease nine months previously, so I was taken to hospital.”

After a week he was discharged into the reality of Britain’s overwhelmed health and care system; a care trap for those, like Carlo, not sick enough to be in hospital, but not quite poor enough to qualify for social care.

“I thought I wasn’t satisfactorily cured or knew what was wrong with me, because they couldn’t diagnose or do the test for Parkinson’s,” he said.

“You could feel the pressure to get people out of the hospital. I totally understand the crisis but it’s a crisis we could have planned for. And we didn’t plan for it.”

Carlo Zamboni
Carlo says the ‘promise’ of the NHS should be upheld

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Carlo is not alone. His brother pops in to help, he’s had support from charities and the local church food bank, and a district nurse visits once a week to check a catheter, the legacy of a collapsed bowel.

He does not qualify for social care support, however. Modest savings and a potential inheritance put him above the earnings threshold.

The local council has installed wall rails and a rope bannister at the top of the stairs to his flat, but the 400 yard walk to the chemist still takes an hour and leaves him exhausted.

How to deal with the needs of people like Carlo, living with multiple morbidities, is one of the fundamental challenges facing the health service in a crisis like no other.

One reason emergency services are overwhelmed is because a fifth of beds are occupied by people who could be at home if only they could be discharged safely. This winter has seen huge pressure to speed up that process.

With social care denuded by low pay and a staffing shortage, NHS England wants to scale up the use of technology, prescribing wearable devices to vulnerable people so they can be monitored remotely from home rather than a precious hospital bed.

Carlo says the “hospital at home” plan might help. “It’s a possibility worth exploring and experimenting with, but there’s no replacement for real people,” he told us.

What he really wants, though, is the government to honour the NHS commitment.

“I expect the NHS to remain true to its principles and I expect people to have faith in the NHS.

“Our generation were promised cradle-to-grave care. And I hope that promise is upheld – for more generations.”