Proud winners at HSJ Awards 2021

November 2021

The NHS laboratory team behind Monitor My Health are proud and delighted to have won the HSJ Acute Sector Innovation of the Year Award. Using technology created for MMH, the team designed and developed a national, home finger-prick blood collection and laboratory testing service for NHS patients.

To help manage many types of chronic diseases, some patients require routine blood tests which would normally mean visiting a GP surgery or hospital for a face to face appointment. However, through this ground-breaking service, patients can take their own sample from home and send it back to the lab for testing. The results are automatically sent back to the clinician to discuss with the patient. Professor Tim McDonald (pictured above), Laboratory Director at the Royal Devon and Exeter Hospital and Senior Biomedical Scientist Rachel Nice (pictured above), played a major role in designing and implementing this new service.

Tim McDonald said: “I’d like to thank our laboratory team who have worked extremely hard to create and launch this innovative service which benefits so many children and adults across the country.”

Staying healthy at home - the importance of Vitamin D

Usually from late March to the end of September, most people get all the Vitamin D they need from sunlight, but these are far from usual times. With many of us spending more time indoors, it is possible those who are deficient in Vitamin D will experience prolonged symptoms this year.  Public Health England has now updated their advice and is recommending people consider taking daily Vitamin D supplements throughout the spring and summer as the coronavirus lockdown continues.

If you can’t get outside that much, you can still get the positive effects of natural sunlight and fresh air by spending time sat by an open window if possible or in your garden or on your balcony if you have one. Remember food sources include oily fish, red meat, liver, egg yolks and fortified foods such as most fat spreads and some breakfast cereals. If you are concerned about your levels, consider a home blood testing kit.

Staying healthy at home - physical health & keeping active

Many of us are spending much more time at home and indoors than we usually would this year. All of our circumstances are so different, from those able to use this time productively, catching up with their gardening and home maintenance, to parents with young families juggling working from home with 24-7 parenting and may not have a garden for exercise.

With such added stress and pressures in mind, it is important not to forget to consider your physical health, which in turn affects your mental health and emotional wellbeing. At a time of great disruption to our daily lives, it can be easy to slip into unhealthy patterns which can make us feel worse. Exercising every day is essential, if you can make use of a green space for walking, running or cycling (keeping the recommended 2 metres from others not in your household) that can do wonders for your mental health and gardening can also be great exercise. If you can’t make it outside or prefer indoor exercise, you can find free and easy 10 minute work outs from Public Health England or other exercise videos to try at home on the NHS Fitness Studio pages or NHS Gym Free Workouts.

Staying healthy at home - the importance of sleep

Now is the time to prioritise looking after your sleep routine – you aren’t going on nights out, many of us are working from home or key worker commutes to work are faster, so we have more opportunity to get the recommended 8 hours a night. Feeling anxious or worried can make it harder to get a good night’s sleep but we can take steps to give ourselves the best chance, such as avoiding devices an hour before bed, cutting back on caffeine and creating a restful environment. 

Try to set your alarm so you don’t sleep in too late and think about ways to make your new daily routine positive - try to structure your day by having have set times for meals, snacks, exercise, video chat with loved ones, a hobby and not forgetting work and chores. This is assuming you don’t have children at home, in that case you will probably already have your day very full!

You might find it helpful to write a plan for your day or your week. Some sort of routine and activity throughout the day will mean brain and body is ready to sleep at night.

Staying healthy at home - diet and hydration

Feeling lonely, anxious, low or bored in these strange times can lead to comfort eating and eating more frequently. Naturally, we all need the odd indulgence to look forward to and at this time especially we probably crave that daily but balance as always is key.

  • Don’t forget to eat your 5 a day - tinned and frozen fruit & veg count and they can contain more nutrients such as Vitamin C than their fresh varieties.
  • Aim for well balanced meals - plan meals in advance to avoid the last minute ‘what’s for dinner?’ question which can result in unhealthy
  • Add healthy snacks to your shopping list, combining protein with produce works well such as cheese & apple, yoghurt & berries, nuts & dried fruit and hummus & carrots to give you just a few ideas.
  • Take advantage of your freezer - reduce food waste by freezing your healthy leftovers, especially useful as a backup if you end up finding your supermarket in short supply of fresh produce one week.
  • Stay well hydrated - drinking an adequate amount of fluid is essential in order for you to feel and function at your best. Water, squash, hot drinks and milk all count towards our fluid needs.

If you are concerned about your cholesterol, consider checking your levels with a home blood testing kit.

BBC Spotlight

NHS looks to cash in on worried patients with £24 blood-test kits

Chris Smyth, Health Editor
May 25 2019, 12:01am, The Times

GPs fear that speculative testing could increase pressure on the health service

The NHS has entered the market to sell consumer blood tests that look for signs of serious illness in a controversial moneyspinning venture.

A leading hospital laboratory hopes that online shoppers will pay from £24 for tests that can prevent disease by assessing people’s risk of conditions such as heart disease, diabetes and osteoporosis. But GPs fear it will lead to an influx of the worried well to overstretched surgeries and insist that “curiosity is simply not a good enough reason for medical testing”.

There was a similar debate this year over government plans for the NHS to sequence the entire genetic code of healthy paying customers to amass DNA data.

Home blood testing is lower-tech but already available, with companies such as Thriva and Medichecks offering checks ranging from liver function to cholesterol levels. Royal Devon and Exeter NHS Foundation Trust will run a private blood testing service that uses its laboratory at night when its machines are less busy.

Tim McDonald, the consultant clinical scientist behind the scheme, claimed that the NHS “almost had a moral obligation” to give consumers a reliable alternative to unregulated commercial tests. “The people we are aiming at are the people who are already doing it,” he said. “I am not going to say people should be doing this. But for people who want to take ownership of their health this is part of the repertoire of things they could do.”

The Monitor My Health service advertises itself as “By the NHS. For the NHS” and offers tests for diabetes, vitamin D levels, cholesterol and thyroid problems. Dr McDonald acknowledged fears among doctors that testing healthy people with no symptoms would flag up harmless abnormalities and lead to needless treatment and extra pressure on the NHS. “We think it’s not a risk because our advice is very reassuring when it’s normal,” he said. “If it’s appropriate we’d say, ‘Go to the GP’ and in the long term we should cause less intensive medication because you’re picking things up early.”

Initially the hospital hopes to make tens of thousands of pounds a year in profit. Dave Torbet, the trust’s business development manager, said: “This is not funding bonuses for executives or shareholders, its putting revenue back into NHS services.”

Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, chairwoman of the Royal College of GPs, said: “Speculative testing is concerning on a number of levels and should only be undertaken if there is a robust evidence base for it, and if it is approved by official bodies such as the National Screening Committee. Curiosity is simply not a good enough reason for medical testing.”

She added: “Speculative testing could also potentially add to already intense pressure on general practice and the wider NHS if patients make appointments to discuss results of tests that they had initially paid for privately.”

Case study
‘It’s nice to be able to think you can get these things checked,” said Louise Tillotson of ordering medical tests from the Monitor My Health website (Chris Smyth writes).

Ms Tillotson, 44, who works at the Exeter hospital behind the test, was curious about what she would find. “Within 48 hours I had an email back saying, ‘Your results are available to view online.’ ” She found the results clear. Some were positive but her vitamin D levels were shown to be worryingly low.

“If I hadn’t done the test I’d never have known this, perhaps until I got osteoporosis,” she said. She now takes a supplement every day and plans to retake the test in six months to see if her vitamin D level has improved.

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