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Tax breaks for private providers, 999 incentives and the swallowable camera to detect oesophageal cancer

A roundup of the health news headlines on Monday 14th January

Staff at London Ambulance Services will be offered cash rewards if they reduce the number of ambulances sent to 999 calls, the Guardian reports.

The scheme was defended by London Ambulance Services, who said as demand continues to rise, the move was designed to ensure that ambulances were sent to the neediest. Some 999 calls could be directed to NHS Direct or their GP after an assessment by a clinician.

Paul Woodrow, director of service delivery for London Ambulance Service said: ‘Traditionally, when people with minor illnesses and injuries call 999, we have sent them an ambulance’.

‘We are no longer doing this as these patients do not need to be treated by an ambulance crew and they don’t require hospital treatment. We need our medics to be available to respond quickly to patients in life-threatening situations or with serious injuries.’

But others voiced concerns about incentivising staff. A spokesman for the Patients Association said: ‘The only criteria for the use of an ambulance should be the extent of the medical emergency, not the impact on the pocket of the call handler.’

The Daily Mail brings us news of ‘the camera you can swallow’, a camera in a capsule the size of a large multivitamin pill that could help detect early stages of cancer of the oesophagus.

The camera captures microscopic images that can detect changes in cells associated with Barrett’s oesophagus, a pre-cancerous condition associated with heartburn and acid reflex.

The camera is a attached to a string-like tether which transmits images to a monitor. This means it can be pulled back up easily.

Currently, screening for Barret’s oesophagus requires a passing an endoscope - a flexible telescope - down a patient’s throat, which takes an hour.

In tests on 13 unsedated volunteers, including six with Barrett’s oesophagus, the capsule camera was able to capture images of the whole gullet in less than a minute.

Professor Gary Tearney, from Massachusetts General Hospital, said: ‘The system gives us a convenient way to screen for Barrett’s that doesn’t require patient sedation, a specialised setting and equipment, or a physician who has been trained in endoscopy. 

‘By showing the three-dimensional, microscopic structure of the oesophageal lining, it reveals much more detail than can be seen with even high-resolution endoscopy.’

Meanwhile, the Telegraph reports that private firms such as InHealth, Specsavers and Virgin Care could be exempt from the tax in line with public sector hospitals to create a fair playing field between public and private healthcare providers.

Public sector hospitals do not pay corporation tax and VAT on supplies.  As part of a consultation, Monitor, the NHS’ economic regulator, said these costs could be ‘prohibitive’ for private firms entering or expanding in the healthcare market.

Many agree that the private fields should be given the same tax exemptions as public bodies.

David Worskett, of NHS Partners Network, a firm which represents private firms in the NHS, said that corporation tax and VAT are ‘significant economic distortions’ and it would be’ extremely helpful to have them addressed by the Government’.

But Jamie Reed, the shadow health minister, said the move could let ‘tax avoiders into the NHS.’

He said: ‘They risk undermining trusted NHS services and could in time destroy the core public service ethos that sets our health service apart from others.’

The consultation’s findings will be sent to health secretary Jeremy Hunt later this month.

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