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Nearly 60 new NHS indicators, lifestyle and cancer, plus how extreme sports damages the heart

Our roundup of the health news headlines on Wednesday 7 December.

Health secretary Andrew Lansley is set to unveil plans to grade NHS doctors and hospitals to improve the quality of service for patients, the Daily Mail reveals. They will be judged against tough new ‘benchmarks’ designed to save more than 20,000 lives a year, as part of the new NHS Outcomes Framework, according to the paper.

Fifty-seven indicators will replace the former target-led system and will include a focus on improving cancer survival and a zero-tolerance approach to hospital-acquired infections such as MRSA, the Mail says.

It adds that the Government will publish details of the current performance for each of the sixty benchmarks next week. National targets from improvement will then be set out by the time of the next election.

Today, the Government will publish for the first time data comparing patients’ experiences at individual GPs’ surgeries, including recovery times. It is hoped that revealing the information will force up standards by allowing patients to choose to avoid poorly performing doctors or institutions, according to the Mail.

The Telegraph is among the papers reporting that almost half of cancers are caused by an unhealthy lifestyle that could be avoided by quitting smoking, losing weight, exercising and drinking less alcohol.

What the paper describes as ‘the most comprehensive study of its kind’ has found that 14 different lifestyle factors ranging from smoking, to lack of exercise, eating too much salt, not having babies, drinking too much and being overweight contributed to four out of ten cancers diagnosed in the UK. The findings expose the myth that developing cancer is ‘bad luck’ or down to genetics, the Telegraph says.

Findings from Cancer Research UK published in the British Journal of Cancer showed smoking was the biggest factor, causing nearly one in five of all cancers. The study found that alcohol was responsible for 6.4% of breast cancers and almost one in ten liver cancers.

Red meat consumption led to 2.7% of cancers, almost 8,500 cases. Obesity was linked to more than 5% of cancers or almost 18,000 cases, including a third of womb cancers.

Extreme sports can cause heart damage, according to the other main health story carried some of today’s papers.

The Independent says the growing popularity of extreme sports such as marathon running and Ironman triathlons may be putting competitors at risk of permanent damage to their hearts, researchers have warned.

A study by researchers from the University of Melbourne, Australia, of 40 elite athletes training for an endurance event found their hearts changed shape during the race, increasing in size but decreasing in pumping power. There were signs of excessive stretching of heart muscle cells.

The hearts recovered in most of the athletes after one week, but in five, who had been training and competing longer than the others, there were signs of scarring suggesting the damage was permanent.

Experts stressed that the risk was small and vastly outweighed by the benefits of exercise, the Independent reports.