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Overstretched maternity wards, Syria polio warning… and could workers be screened for alcohol use?

News of another NHS crisis hits the front page of The Independent this morning – this time in maternity care. Public spending watchdogs accused the Government of putting mothers and babies at risk after their inquiry found maternity units in England are overstretched and in some cases performing badly, with a national shortage of over 2,000 midwives and more than half of units having fewer than recommended numbers of consultants.

The National Audit Office inquiry also revealed nearly £500 million a year – almost a fifth of the whole £2.6bn NHS budget for maternity services – is being spent on medical negligence cover.

Labour MP Margaret Hodge, who chairs the Public Accounts Committee, said it was ‘scandalous’ that a fifth of the overall budget – around £700 per birth – was being spent on clinical negligence cover and that the Department of Health needed to ‘buck up and take responsibility for this’.

The other big story today is the news Europeans could be at risk from polio after a recent outbreak in Syria and symptom-free cases with wild poliovirus being found in Israel. Public health doctors from Germany, writing in The Lancet, have warned cases could spread from Syria to neighbouring regions and to Europe, the BBC reports.

The risk the virus could spread is particularly heightened in Europe where because polio has been eradicated, an inactivated vaccine is now used that offers children less protection than the oral drops containing live vaccine. This means very high levels of vaccination coverage are needed. According to the experts, some countries such as Austria (83%) and Ukraine (75%) that have low coverage risk a sustained outbreak should the virus be introduced by refugees fleeing Syria.

Dr Benjamin Neuman from University of Reading said: ‘Despite being vaccinated, a small percentage of children in the UK would be at risk of contracting polio if they were exposed to the virus.’

ElsewhereThe Daily Telegraph reports companies are being told to screen their employees for signs of ‘risky’ drinking to cut costs of lost days of work from hangovers or more severe alcohol-related problems.

Alcohol campaigner Don Shenker, writing in the BMJ, warns that both private and public sectors still have strong workplace cultures mixing alcohol with off-duty relaxation. While this might foster team spirit and lower stress levels among colleagues, a quarter of the British workforce is thought to drink a dangerous amount.  

Mr Shenker, from the Alcohol Health Network said: ‘Offering staff confidential use of the alcohol use disorders identification test and brief advice as a self-awareness initiative at work, whether through face to face interactions or leaflets, may well help prevent problems with alcohol at an earlier stage.’