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Organ donors to be given priority, 90-year-olds have better mental performance and delaying cord clamping benefits babies' health

A round-up of the day’s health news headlines on Thursday 11 July.

Patients who have signed up to donate organs could be given priority if they need a transplant, under proposals being considered by the NHS.

A report by NHS Blood and Transplant floats an approach that would allow registered donors to skip the queue ahead of patients who were not registered as part of a new bid to increase organ donation figures in the UK.

NHS officials have also called for more smokers, drinkers and elderly people to register as donors to help overcome the national shortage in donations.

Professor James Neuberger, associate medical director at NHS Blood and Transplant, said: ‘They do this in Israel and it has encouraged donation.

‘It was first introduced in Singapore. While they don’t exclude those who don’t donate, it gives priority to those who are on the donor register.Whether it is appropriate for the UK is up for debate and discussion.’

The proposals, backed by the four UK health ministers, aims to build on the 50% increase in deceased donation rates since 2008.

Meanwhile, Danish research suggests that today’s 90-year-olds are surviving into old age with better mental performance than ever before.

A study in The Lancet indicates that people born in 1915 scored higher in cognitive tests in their 90s compared with those born 10 years earlier, despite being two years older at the time of assessment.

Experts suggest that these differences may be a result of better living standards and intellectual stimulation.

The research conducted addresses the question of whether living into old age is accompanied by poor health, or whether overall health in old age is improving.

Commenting on the study, Prof Tom Kirkwood, associate dean for ageing at Newcastle University, said the data from Denmark was ‘encouraging’.

Finally, scientists have shown that delaying cutting the umbilical cord for more than three minutes may benefit the baby’s health.

Existing guidance on cord-clamping, published in 2007, indicated that cutting the cord immediately was favourable. 

However, recent research indicates that babies with delayed cord-clamping had higher haemoglobin levels between one and two days post-birth, and were less likely to be iron deficient three to six months post-birth.

However, delayed clamping did lead to a marginal increase in the number of babies requiring treatment for jaundice.

Dr Philippa Middleton, of Adelaide University, said: ‘The benefits of delayed cord clamping need to be weighed against the small additional risk of jaundice in newborns’ but does note that ‘later cord clamping to increase iron stores might be particularly beneficial in settings where severe anaemia is common.’

Dr Middleton remarks that: ‘In light of growing evidence delayed cord clamping increases early haemoglobin concentrations and iron stores in infants, a more liberal approach to delaying clamping of the umbilical cord in healthy babies appears to be warranted.’

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence is to publish new guidelines on cord-clamping in 2014.

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