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Stressed out babies, rising birth defects and concerns over welfare reform

Our roundup of the health news headlines on Wednesday 14 December.

Be it a dirty nappy, broccoli-flavoured baby food for lunch or an over-inquisitive cat; whatever it is that stresses a baby out, Swedish scientists have discovered that stress can cause allergies in infants according to the Mail.

Babies with a low level of the hormone, cortisol, were found to be ‘less likely to develop allergies in a study of children aged six, 12 and 24 months old. The scientists have put the recent rise in childhood allergies down to babies’ ‘stressful lifestyle’, a link which has already been established in school-aged children. It seems stressed-out babies will most-likely have to add puffy skin and bouts of sneezes to their already sizable catalogue of woes.

According to a report in the Independent this morning, 2% of babies were born with birth defects in 2009, a much higher rate than previously thought. At least 14,500 babies were born with conditions such as congenital heart disease, spina bifida or gastroschisis. The new figures are based on data from five regional birth defect registers and two registers specific to particular diseases. ONS figures previously put the estimate around 1.3%.

NHS cutbacks have forced staff at three in 10 hospital departments to breach EU rules on maximum working hours, according to the Telegraph. Despite official reports which show that 98% of workers are sticking to the weekly 48 hour limit, an audit has shown that many are working far longer. Doctors are also working longer for no extra pay to cope with the shortage of senior doctors. It’s good to see coalface workers pulling their weight with the cutbacks, remember what Cameron and Lansley keep saying? We’re all in this together.

Speaking of cuts, ‘more than 20 of Britain’s leading cancer specialists have written to work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith warning him that thousands of their patients will be plunged into poverty by his welfare reforms’, the Times reports. The Welfare Reform Bill, which is in its final stages at the House of Lords, has caused clinicians to become ‘gravely concerned’ as the new sickness benefit will be paid for only one year to those unable to work because of an illness. This comes as a sharp blow to patients facing longer-term battles with conditions such as cancer.

After the year is up, patients will only be eligible for means-tested income support. Cancer charities including Macmillan have warned that a year is often not enough to recover from the effects of chemotherapy and other cancer treatments. Macmillan also questions the Government’s suggestion that to allow people with cancer to claim the benefit for longer than year ‘would erode their will to work’.