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‘Indefensible’ tax arrangements at the DH, consultant concerns over hospital care, Botox on the NHS?

A round-up of the health news in the papers on Thursday 16 February.

The Guardian has an exclusive this morning that is sure to lead to a few red faces at the Department of Health.

More than 25 senior staff at the DH are paid salaries, in some cases over £250,000, directly to limited to companies with the likely effect of reducing tax bills. The payments, which amount to almost £4.2m in one year, are in direct contravention of assurances minister Simon Burns had given to Parliament.

The DH claimed the 25 were not civil servants or technically even staff, ‘although a large number have been employed by the department for many years and hold very senior positions'. A Whitehall source told the Guardian: ‘We cannot defend these arrangements, but it may be it is very common in Whitehall and this is just the tip of an iceberg.'

One in four medical consultants believes hospital care is being put at risk because of the ‘succession of different staff' patients see due to cuts in working hours, according to the Telegraph (page.16, not on web).

The news comes from a Royal College of Physicians survey of its members and adds to the data collected from Pulse's survey of GPs about how they feel about the standard of care in hospitals. Three in 10 of the 7,000 members of the RCP who were surveyed also felt that their hospital's ability to deliver continuity of care was poor or very poor.

Experts blame cuts to working hours under the European Working Time Directive which has caused hospitals to introduce more frequent shift changes. The RCP has set up a commission to investigate the falling standards of care in hospitals called The Future Hospital to be chaired by Sir Michael Rawlins, current chair of NICE.

Migraines could soon be treated with a dose of Botox after the results of a clinical trial have suggested that the anti-wrinkle drug can halve the effects of chronic migraine, the Mail claims this morning.

The therapy, which has been privately available as a pricey migraine treatment for two years, could eventually become available on the NHS, but a NICE review says there is so far ‘insufficient evidence' as to how effective Botox can be. Professor Anne MacGregor, a migraine expert at St Bartholomew's Hospital, London, said she was concerned Botox might be used as a quick fix and warned that the drug is not a ‘blanket treatment' and ‘might be appropriate for a small number of patients'. Migraine sufferers may no longer have to grin and bear the pain after NICE makes its decision in June, in fact, they may no longer be able to grin at all.