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Hospitals to get tough on smoking relatives, potential cure for insomnia and where have all the cancer drugs gone?

NICE has told NHS staff they should ask close relatives of people going into hospital not to smoke around their loved ones, including in the home or car, the Guardian reports.

In a new drive to cut the NHS bill for smoking-related diseases, the health regulator also wants hospitals to make more effort to persuade inpatients – and their relatives and visitors – to quit.

It also wants doctors, nurses and midwifes to routinely ask patients at their first contact if they smoke – and offer ‘intensive behavioural support’ to those who want to quit with latest smoking cessation techniques.

Professor Steve Field, former RCGP chair and now in charge of tackling health inequalities in his role as deputy national medical director of NHS England, gave his stamp of approval to the measures, in particular for their potential to allow pregnant women to live in a smoke-free environment. Around 30% of pregnant women in some regions still smoke, the paper says.

Elsewhere, the NHS is slammed for a drastic cutback in the central drugs fund for cancer treatments. The government previously pledged access to drugs through a central £200m pot, with David Cameron saying no cancer patient would be denied treatment if their specialist sought it. But NHS England has drawn up a new streamlined list of 28 drugs, which has left dying cancer patients feeling ‘betrayed’ and facing a ‘race against the clock’, according to the Telegraph.

Andrew Wilson, chief executive of the Rarer Cancers Foundation, claimed: ‘This is a completely backwards step, and it entirely breaks the spirit of what was pledged – which was that decisions should be made in front of the patient.’ NHS officials insisted that listed treatments would be ‘fast-tracked’, doctors would still be able to make individual requests for funding for other medications.

Drugs no longer listed include rituximab for blood cancers, alemtuzumab for leukaemia, erlotinib for lung cancer, trabectedin for ovarian cancer and plerixafor for myeloma.

With such perplexing news, it’s heartening to hear the Daily Mail has pinpointed a new way to cure those sleepless nights. The paper reports on a new pill that promises help for insomniacs – without leaving them groggy in the mornings.

The drug – so far tested only on animals – is called DORA-2 and targets orexin, a compound in the brain ‘that helps keep us awake’. Rats given the drug snoozed for longer than those given a placebo – without suffering the usual memory problems associated with sleeping pills such as valium. Monkeys given the drug were also free of any impact on their memory or alertness.

There is a downside, though – Professor Colin Espie, founder of the sleep centre at Glasgow University, said tampering with orexin could result in other side effects, including an increased appetite. He remains unconvinced and says we need to get to the root cause of insomnia rather than seeking a quick fix.

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