Australian seagulls carry antibiotic-resistant superbugs

Seagulls outside Sydney Opera House

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Silver gulls are the most common type of seagull

Seagulls all over Australia are carrying superbugs resistant to antibiotics, scientists say.

They found more than 20% of silver gulls nationwide carrying bacteria such as E. coli, which can cause urinary tract and blood infections and sepsis.

The research has raised fears that the antibiotic-resistant bacteria- similar to superbugs which have hit hospitals – could infect humans and other animals.

Scientists have described it as a “wake-up call”.

The birds are believed to have contracted the bugs from scavenging in rubbish and sewage.

The scientists who conducted the research on behalf of Murdoch University in Perth have said it is “eye-opening”, The Guardian reported.

“I think that it is a wake-up call for all government and various agencies, like water treatment and big councils that manage waste, to properly work collaboratively to tackle this issue,” said Dr Sam Abraham, a lecturer in veterinary and medical infectious diseases.

Humans could contract the bacteria if they touched the seagull faeces, but the risk is considered low if they wash their hands afterwards.

The study showed some bugs found in the faeces were resistant to common antibiotic medications such as cephalosporin and fluoroquinolone.

One sample showed resistance to carbapenem, which is a last-resort drug used for severe and high-risk infections.

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‘I lived in constant pain, now I’m super-fit’

A woman whose life was blighted by constant pain has become fitter than she ever thought possible.

Polly Tonkins, 35, was born with two dislocated hips and had to have major surgery as a toddler as well as at the ages of 16 and 21.

But after three years of CrossFit circuit training she says her improved strength and fitness means further surgery is now far less likely.

Polly, from Mylor Bridge, Cornwall, is entering her first competitive event at the end of July.

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Waiting lists: ‘Shock and distress’ at 166-week doctor wait

Health staff on a hospital ward

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A County Antrim woman who was told she would have to wait 166 weeks to see an orthopaedic consultant has said she is “shocked and distressed”.

Sandra Condon, who is a nurse, said she is in chronic pain.

Mrs Condon said she “couldn’t believe” that she would have to wait more than three years to be seen “and then potentially three to four years after that for surgery”.

“I honestly had to ask the girl to repeat that,” she said.

Her comments come after a report from the Nuffield Trust, an independent think tank, said that Northern Ireland’s “political deadlock” and a “top-down approach” are frustrating efforts to help sick people.

A patient in Northern Ireland is nearly 50 times as likely to be waiting over a year for care than one in Wales, the next worst performer, according to the report.

The worsening waiting list situation is further underlined in South Eastern Health Trust figures, seen by BBC News NI.

They show that children who may have a life-threatening allergy are being expected to wait 232 weeks to see a consultant.


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South Eastern Health Trust Waiting TimesSource: South Eastern Health Trust figures seen by BBC News NI

A Department of Health spokesperson said “important progress” had been made in transforming health and social care services, “notwithstanding the political and budgetary uncertainties of recent years”.

The hard-hitting Nuffield Trust report included information from clinicians and health service leaders from both inside and outside Northern Ireland.

On leadership, it highlights a culture of “tight command and control at the heart of the system”, with contributors suggesting a top-down approach does not allow for change.

It said the “political deadlock and culture of centralisation” are “impending reform”.

‘Grind to a halt’

It’s been three years since the Bengoa review, which outlined how to improve Northern Ireland’s health service.

Pace of change has been slow despite all political parties at Stormont signing up to the transformation of how services are delivered.

The Department of Health insisted much work was going on behind the scenes and that “sustained and significant investment is required to address NI’s waiting list backlog”.

“The department cannot spend money it does not have,” it said.

The report’s co-author and Nuffield Trust policy analyst Mark Dayan said officials are committed to change but “to keep on pushing from the top risks making things worse”.

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Prof Deirdre Heenan, the report’s co-author, said the waiting lists were a “national scandal”

Mr Dayan said that without elected leaders “things grind to a halt because officials don’t have the legitimacy to make tough calls”.

Co-author Prof Deirdre Heenan said the “spiralling waiting lists in Northern Ireland represent a major breach of public trust in the NHS”.

She told the BBC that the waiting list figures are a “national scandal”.

Waiting lists apology

People like Mrs Condon say they are forgotten about.

“We don’t have Stormont sitting at the moment so who is taking this forward? Who is fighting for the people who need to be seen?” she asked.

Commenting on Mrs Condon’s treatment, the Belfast Health Trust said that in most cases patients are seen in chronological order in terms of urgency but that if a specialist deems a referral “clinically urgent”, then patients will be seen within 10 weeks.

It said “demand to see a shoulder surgeon greatly outweighs” the trust’s capacity but that it had hired a specialist physiotherapist to run “clinics with shoulder surgeons” to increase capacity.

“We would like to take this opportunity to apologise again to the significant and growing numbers of patients who remain on the current waiting lists,” it added.

Grainne Doran, from the Royal College of GPs, said people are becoming accustomed to lengthy lists.

“We now need to step back and say we need to urgently get rid of the long lists and work out how we can stop them happening again,” she added.

Long waits are causing more people to go private, with demand so high that it has pushed two of Northern Ireland’s private hospitals into the top 20 busiest in the UK for dealing with joint surgery.

Kingsbridge Private Hospital is 9th while the Ulster Independent Clinic is 16th, in the National Joint Registry’s list of over 200 private hospitals.

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NHS fees: ‘Couple couldn’t take baby’s body home’

Joe Rylands

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Joe Rylands says some NHS staff are in “disbelief” at what he considers to be the expansion of NHS charging

Charging overseas patients for NHS care in England must be suspended until it is clear it is not harming women, the Royal College of Midwives has said.

A couple whose baby died following an emergency Caesarean were not given the body as they were unable to pay £10,000 in medical fees, one doctor has said.

Joe Rylands said the expansion of charging had caused “disbelief” among many colleagues.

The Department of Health said the charges had raised £1.3bn since 2015.

In 2018, Dr Rylands was working in a maternity hospital when a woman from Western Europe on holiday in the UK came in – she was eight months pregnant and had started bleeding. Obstetricians performed an emergency Caesarean but the baby died.

When she and her partner were recovering on a ward, they were interviewed by an overseas visitors manager, in charge of billing.

Because they did not have a valid European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) they were told they had to pay £10,000 – which they could not do.

“There’s a service the NHS offers when you’ve had a miscarriage or when your baby has died – they can present it to you, the body in a bassinet, you take it home to have a funeral,” Dr Rylands explains.

“That can be a really important process in grieving and recovery. And this couple were not allowed to have the body because they hadn’t paid the bill.”

The hospital trust involved in the case declined to comment.

‘Potentially dangerous’

Since 2017, service providers have had a duty to check the eligibility of patients and charge them before non-urgent treatment in a bid to clamp down on so-called “health tourism”. There are exceptions – such A&E – where treatment is free until a patient is either admitted to hospital or given an outpatient appointment.

Patients from inside the European Economic Area with a non-UK EHIC are treated for free, with the government applying to their home countries to cover the cost.

Those from elsewhere will be charged for the cost of their treatment.

There is growing opposition to the policy, with the British Medical Association calling for it to be abandoned completely.

The Royal Colleges of Physicians, Paediatrics and Child Health, Obstetricians and Gynaecologists and the Faculty of Public Health have written to ministers urging them to suspend the system.

The Royal College of Midwives told the BBC maternity care should be exempt from charges.

Sean O’Sullivan, head of health and social policy, said: “It could put off women who need care but are frightened that they may not be able to pay in the longer term. This is potentially dangerous for the woman and her developing baby.”

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Diane Abbott called on the government to publish its review into the changes

Shadow home secretary Diane Abbott described upfront charging as “immoral” and said it should be suspended.

“Let’s find out what the size of the problem is, but also we need to look at how people may be suffering.”

The Department of Health has conducted a review of the 2017 amendments and said there was no significant evidence they have “led to overseas visitors being deterred from treatment”. This review has not been published.

One former NHS worker, who left his job in the overseas visitors department at a large London hospital last year, said he received no formal training in how to issue bills.

He said rules were not applied consistently – and “easy targets” were made of those less likely to “kick up a fuss”.

“I think potentially at the moment the way it’s being done is discriminatory,” the man – who we are not naming – adds, targeting those with “foreign-sounding names” who were perceived to be less likely to be resident in the UK.

Deep stress

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Nasar Ullah Khan’s family have continued to be billed following his death

He described how he informed patients about fees when they had only just recently stabilised in intensive care.

Last December, Nasar Ullah Khan was receiving end-of-life care when he was handed a bill for £16,000 in his hospital bed.

He had suffered heart failure – but was ineligible for a transplant because he was not in the UK legally.

Mr Khan had tried and failed to legalise his status – and just before he fell ill, had applied to the Home Office for voluntary return to Pakistan.

He died in February.

Liz Bates, a Birmingham GP who volunteers at the charity Doctors of the World, was contacted to help the family and says: “Almost as soon as they knew Nasar wasn’t eligible for free NHS care they started talking to him about billing.”

The family were posted another bill for £32,000, and another for £23,000, which Ms Bates said had caused them deep stress and was “totally unnecessary” because Mr Khan would never be able to pay the bills.

A spokesman for University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust said it was obliged by law to implement the charging regulations.

“Further guidance published by the Department for Health and Social Care also states that patients must be fully informed about the charges they might face, therefore one initial invoice was provided to Mr Khan, with two further invoices issued to a home address.”

A Department of Health spokesman said: “British taxpayers support the NHS so it is only right that overseas visitors also make a contribution to our health service so everyone can receive urgent care when they need it and, since 2015, charges for people who are not UK residents have secured an extra £1.3bn for front-line NHS services.

“Importantly, our guidance is clear that urgent treatment must never be withheld, if someone cannot pay.”

But campaigners against the charges argue that, in practice, decisions about urgency are not clear cut. James Skinner, from campaign group Medact, says many healthcare workers do not know the guidelines.

“Doctors are not well trained to assess a person’s immigration status, and overseas managers are not trained to make clinical judgements – we regularly see people with cancer who are denied treatment.”

Follow the BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire programme on Facebook and Twitter – and see more of our stories here.

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The blind dressage rider competing against sighted people

Blind dressage rider, Nicola Naylor, competes nationally and internationally in para and non-disabled events. But how does she do that if she can’t see?

Although dressage is difficult to perfect, Naylor says one of the biggest issues for her is the simple matter of knowing whether the horse is positioned straight or not.

She has developed a variety of techniques with her trainer, Daniel Watson, to assist her with this and achieving the predetermined movements in the arena.

Produced by Adam Bloodworth and filmed and edited by James Stewart for BBC Ouch.

For more videos and podcasts like this, visit BBC Ouch.

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Yemen conflict: Six-year-old Yusra’s new eye

In October, the BBC met Yusra and her family in war-torn Yemen. She had an aggressive tumour in her left eye, but couldn’t get the life-saving treatment she needed.

Now she’s been fitted with a prosthetic eye in Jordan and is returning to her homeland.

International Correspondent Orla Guerin reports for the BBC News at Ten.

Produced by Wietske Burema and Hannah Gelbart

Camera: Goktay Koraltan

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Vaginal bacteria linked to ovarian cancer

Lactobacillus bacteria

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Having too few “friendly” vaginal bacteria may increase a woman’s chance of ovarian cancer, and swabs can be used to spot this, say researchers.

The team, led by University College London, hope the finding could be used to identify women at high risk of the cancer, which has no screening test.

However, they say that more work is needed to explore this.

It is too soon to recommend women should be given protective doses of the good bacteria, they say.

The work, which is published in the Lancet Oncology, was funded by money from the government’s tampon tax, as well as grants from the EU and the Eve Appeal charity.

About ovarian cancer

More than 7,300 women are diagnosed with ovarian cancer each year in the UK.

Diagnosing it early improves the chances of successful treatment, but the symptoms – bloating and discomfort – can be mistaken for more common, less serious conditions, such as menstrual cramps or irritable bowel syndrome.

Many women are not diagnosed until the cancer has already started to spread.

If your doctor thinks your symptoms could be due to ovarian cancer they will recommend blood tests and scans.

The exact cause of ovarian cancer is unknown, but certain factors increase a woman’s risk: age, a family history of ovarian or breast cancer and being overweight.

Now researchers believe micro-organisms living inside our bodies may also play a role.

Microbiome link

There is growing scientific evidence that the community of bacteria and other microbes that reside inside us – our microbiome – influence our wellbeing and health.

One species of beneficial bacteria that is thought to be particularly important in the vagina is called lactobacillus.

Experts believe it stops other unhelpful or bad microbes from taking up residence and causing harm.

The study involved 176 women with ovarian cancer, 109 with inherited high-risk genes for ovarian cancer (BRCA1 genes) and 295 women with no known genetic risk.

The women were examined and samples taken using the same collection method used in cervical screening.

Lactobacilli levels were significantly lower in the women under 50 with ovarian cancer or high-risk cancer genes.

What do the findings mean?

It is not clear whether this link is causal or if other factors might explain it, or how much of an impact it has on risk.

Helen Callard, from Cancer Research UK, said: “The microbiome is a really interesting area of research and we’re slowly putting pieces together about how our natural bacteria might affect our health. But when interpreting research like this, association doesn’t mean causation.

“There are several factors that could influence the risk of ovarian cancer, and different things that can affect the make-up of vaginal bacteria – and it’s not always easy to separate these elements. So we need to know how vaginal bacteria might directly affect the risk of developing ovarian cancer. Or whether it’s a different factor entirely.”

Alexandra Holden, from Target Ovarian Cancer, said: “Before women become concerned about the bacteria in their vagina, more research is required to better understand how the vaginal microbiome may contribute to ovarian cancer, and find better ways to detect the disease. In the meantime, it is crucial for women to be aware of the symptoms, and to visit the GP with any concerns.”

The investigators believe good bugs provide a protective barrier to other infections, stopping them from travelling up the gynaecological tract to the fallopian tubes and ovaries.

Researcher Prof Martin Widschwendter said: “We do not yet know for sure whether low levels of the beneficial bacteria leads to an increased risk of ovarian cancer, but that is what we suspect.

“It fits with other research. It’s been shown that women who use excessive vaginal hygiene products have lower levels of this bacterium too, and they are at increased risk of ovarian cancer.”

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It means he’s not left out: How radio aids helped my deaf son

Levindinos Anastasiou

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National deaf society

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Five-year-old Levindinos can join in more now that he has radio aids

Having a radio aid gave five-year-old Levindinos Anastasiou, who has hearing loss, “a new lease of life”, says his mum.

The aids have two parts – the child wears a receiver with their hearing aid and the person they want to hear wears a transmitter, filtering out background noise.

The National Deaf Children’s Society says more councils should pay for them.

But the Local Government Association says funds are limited.

Levindinos was diagnosed with mild-to-moderate hearing loss in both ears when he was just a few months old.

But he didn’t have access to a radio aid until he was four, and struggled at nursery.

“He used to get into trouble a lot at the nursery he went to,” says his mum Sophie.

‘Opportunities to learn’

Children with hearing loss may be given the £1,000 devices at school, but the aids are less commonly funded for home use – so families can use them in the car and outdoors, or when the children are doing homework or other activities.

The Anastasiou family lives in Leyton, east London. Their local authority does not fund home radio aids, so Sophie decided to pay for one herself.

She says it has made a real difference.

“He’s had a new lease of life, and many more opportunities to learn.

“Levindinos can take part; he’s not left out. It makes a real difference because without them, he always wants to be close to me to make sure he can hear what I am saying.

“With them, he can cycle with his friends ahead of me, without having to lag behind so I can support him.”

She says it’s unfair that not all deaf children have similar access.

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Manu Palomeque

The National Deaf Children’s Society estimates about 11,500 children live in 43 English council areas that do not fund the aids.

It says the situation has got better, with the number of councils providing them going up from 77 in 2016 to 109 now.

There are more than 45,000 deaf children in the UK altogether. In Northern Ireland, all children are entitled to home radio aids, while in Scotland and Wales most services do not offer them.

‘Tipping point’

Jo Campion, from the NDCS says: “Thousands of young deaf children across the country are being thrown into a radio-aid lottery, where their chances of having one at home are based on their postcode, not on their needs.

“It’s a tragic waste of potential and it’s deeply unfair.”

She added: “Radio aids boost a child’s chances of picking up language, reduce the effect of background noise and help in situations where face-to-face conversations are difficult, like playing outside or travelling in the car.”

But Anntoinette Bramble, chairwoman of the Local Government Association’s Children and Young People Board, said: “The National Deaf Children’s Society is wrong to suggest that councils have a duty to supply radio aids. However, as many as possible do so because they know that deafness can make life incredibly difficult for some children who experience it.

“Despite immense pressures and strains on councils and schools, they are doing all they can to help deaf and partially deaf children get the best start in life.”

But she added: “Councils are reaching the point where the money is simply not there to keep up with demand, pushing support for children with Special Educational Needs and Disability to a tipping point.”

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Amazon Alexa offering NHS health advice

Amazon Echo device

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People will be able to get expert health advice using Amazon Alexa devices under a partnership with the NHS, the government has announced.

From this week, the voice-assisted technology is automatically searching the NHS Choices website when UK users ask for health-related advice.

Previously the device provided information from a range of sources.

The Department of Health in England said it could provide valuable support and even reduce demand on the NHS.

The partnership was first announced last year and now talks are under way with other companies, including Microsoft, to set up similar arrangements.

The use of voice search is on the increase and is seen as particularly beneficial to vulnerable patients, such as elderly people and those with visual impairment, who may struggle to access the internet through more traditional means.

NHS ’embracing’ technology

Under the partnership, Amazon’s algorithm uses information from the NHS website to provide answers to questions such as, “How do I treat a migraine?” and, “What are the symptoms of chickenpox?”

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said it was right for the NHS to “embrace” technology in this way, predicting it would reduce pressure on “our hard-working GPs and pharmacists”.

“We want to empower every patient to take better control of their healthcare,” he added.

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He said it was just the latest step in a technological revolution in the NHS.

The government has set up a unit, NHSX, to boost the use of digital technologies in the health service.

Among the measures already being pursued are an expansion of electronic prescribing and the use of artificial intelligence to analyse scans.

Prof Helen Stokes-Lampard, of the Royal College of GPs, said the move had “potential”, especially for minor ailments.

But she said it was vital that independent research was done to make sure the advice being given was safe or it could “prevent people seeking proper medical help and create even more pressure”.

And she added it was important to remember not everyone was comfortable using such technology or could afford it.

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West Yorkshire teacher uses dance to cope with cancer

A dance teacher with incurable cancer said that running her classes has provided her with a “safe space” away from her illness.

Samantha Bell was diagnosed in 2012 and has undergone operations to remove several organs. She has also had to deal with the death of her husband.

She is now training a team of dancers in her Wakefield studio to take part in the Dance World Cup in Portugal.

The group is the first Yorkshire team to take part in the competition and will compete against 53 other countries later this month.

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