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£500m cash boost for A&Es, elderly warned off the booze – and why they may want to drink cocoa instead

The top story in health today is the Prime Minister’s announcement that A&E departments in England are to be given a £500m cash boost to avert a winter crisis. The decision comes after A&E waiting times hit a nine-year high earlier this year and doctors warned of a potential crisis this winter, The Independent reports.

David Cameron said: ‘The additional funding will go to hospitals where the pressure will be greatest, with a focus on practical measures that relieve pinch points in local services.

‘By acting now, we can ensure doctors, nurses and NHS staff have the support they need and patients are not left facing excessive waits for treatment.’

Elsewhere, the Daily Mail has the story that doctors want alcohol safety levels to be halved for pensioners, warning that heavy drinking among elderly people is a ‘hidden problem’. According to the paper, statistics show over-65s are more likely to drink than young people and more likely than any other group to drink every day of the week, yet older people can end up with years of disability through alcohol-related falls and are particularly at risk from the effects of drink on prescription pills. The Royal College of Psychiatrists has called for men over 65 to be limited to 1.5 units per day and women to one unit a day.

Dr Graeme Wilson, from Newcastle University, whose team has done research finding elderly people’s attitudes to alcohol were ‘blasé’, told the paper: ‘Many older people are drinking to a level that is having a long-term impact on their health, even if the damage they are doing is not always apparent.’

Finally the BBC reports on a study suggesting that drinking two cups of cocoa a day could improve cognitive function in elderly people. Researchers found people with impaired blood flow in their brains at the start of the study ended up with better blood flow after drinking the cocoa, and also showed improvements on some cognitive tests as well. People without impaired blood flow to start with showed no improvements.

Dr Simon Ridley, head of research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, cautioned: ‘One drawback of this study is the lack of a control group for comparison, and we can’t tell whether the results would have been different if the participants drank no cocoa at all.’

But he added: ‘Poor vascular health is a known risk factor for dementia, and understanding more about the links between vascular problems and declining brain health could help the search for new treatments and preventions.’