How much ? NHS spends money like water on ICT

According to the Guardian "BT Group will next month become the third major contractor in as many years to take a multimillion pound writedown on its work with the government's crisis-stricken GDP12.7bn overhaul of the NHS computer system."

This is the most astonishing amount of money.

The NHS is pretty much the biggest employer in Europe. There are something like 1,330,000 employed by the wider NHS - of whom some 133,000 are Doctors.

Yet despite that vast workforce we could (takes deep breath) give every-single-one of those employees TWO top-of-the range laptops (one for work and one for home) AND an iPhone each - and still have some change left over from GDP2.7bn.

Leaving some GDP10bn to spend on connecting them all up...

Let's look at that one more time. Two laptops and iPhone for every single NHS employee, and still have GDP10 Billion left over.

For pity's sake, who runs these contracts?

Because we sure know who's paying for it all.

Update - June 2011 - "NHS Chief Information Officer - Christine Connelly - in dramatic resignation. Terminal crisis for £11.4bn National Programme for IT?" ComputerWorldUK
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Virus used to make nanoparticles

Important to note the way that nanotech, biotech and electronic systems interface here. Not to mention the Black Eyed Peas...

UK scientists from Norwich have used a plant virus to create nanotechnology building blocks.

The virus, which infects black-eyed peas, was employed as a "scaffold" on to which other chemicals were attached.

By linking iron-containing compounds to the virus's surface, the John Innes Centre team was able to create electronically active nanoparticles.

The researchers tell the journal Small that their work could be used in the future to make tiny electrical devices.

The work is yet another example of how scientists are now trying to engineer objects on the scale of atoms and molecules.

At the nanoscale, materials can be "tuned" to display unusual properties that could be exploited to build faster, lighter, stronger and more efficient devices and systems.

Link: BBC NEWS | Science/Nature | Virus used to make nanoparticles.

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Google Medical

Dean Giustini, UBC biomedical branch librarian wants Google to build a Medical Portal. As he rightly points out, "The benefits to human health would be immeasurable". But I suspect he's really pointing up a much wider trend in all our futures.

In a recent letter in the New England Journal of Medicine, a New York rheumatologist describes a scene at rounds where a professor asked the presenting fellow to explain how he arrived at his diagnosis.

Matter of factly, the reply came: "I entered the salient features into Google, and [the diagnosis] popped right up."


Googling your diagnosis; Googling your treatment - where is all this leading us?


Google should consider creating a medical portal. Call it Google Medicine; design an interface with medical filters and better algorithms; lead to the best evidence (just don't forget to consult with librarians about where the evidence is located). This kind of all purpose tool is badly needed in medicine, particularly for developing countries.

Build Google Medicine. The benefits to human health would be immeasurable.

It is probably worth adding that Doctors increasingly find that their patients have already hit Google before they appear in the surgery - and I write as someone married to a Doctor...

Rod Liddle wrote a pertinent article in the Sunday Times

I know what I’ve got when I go to the doctor and I know in advance the most efficacious method of treatment. Now I realise this sounds arrogant, but there’s a lot of information out there, in books and on the internet. The same sort of information given to the General Practitioners, in fact. What’s more, GPs are generalists, required to be au fait with every ailment from athlete’s foot to alopecia.

Me, I’m a specialist. I know only about the horrible stuff that affects, or is likely to affect, me.

Recent advice to UK GPs suggests that rather than reading around their subject in advance, they should rely on immediate contextual look-up (ie. "your symptoms look interesting, let's see what Google Medical has to say") to ensure that the information they then interpret is as up-to-date as practical.

Contrast with the Doctors of yesteryear who came out of Med School and then spent 40 years practicing medicine based on that training alone.

And how does this translate to the wider educational picture?

Well, everything will go this way. Just-in-time Learning. Timely. Pertinent. And heading your way soon.

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Intelligent Design? I Don't Think So...

Excuse me for saying so, but "Hallelujah"

A court in the US has ruled against the teaching of "intelligent design" alongside Darwin's theory of evolution.

A group of parents in the Pennsylvania town of Dover had taken the school board to court for demanding biology classes not teach evolution as fact.

The authorities wanted to introduce the idea that Earth's life was too complicated to have evolved on its own.

The 11 parents who brought the case argued that teaching intelligent design (ID) was effectively teaching creationism, which is banned.

Judge John Jones agreed - and found that "the secular purposes claimed by the board amount to a pretext for the board's real purpose, which was to promote religion"

Link: BBC News.

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Stem cells offer Bootstrap option for the body

Further developments in the Stem Cell field. At risk of an inappropriate computing analogy, it looks as though Stem Cells really can be used as a "bootstrap" for the body.

Doctors have launched a trial to test whether heart disease can be treated using a patient's own stem cells.

The study, at Barts and the London NHS Trust, is funded by a charity set up by a man who underwent stem cell treatment for his heart condition in Germany.

The aim will be to determine whether adult stem cells taken from bone marrow can repair damaged heart muscle.


Some patients will have stem cells extracted from bone marrow in their hip and injected into their major coronary arteries or directly into their heart.

Others will receive injections of growth factor drugs to try to cause stem cells to spill out of their bone marrow and into their blood without the need for the operation.

Huge potential

Lead researcher Dr Anthony Mathur said: "This is one of the biggest and most comprehensive trials of its kind in the world.

Ian Rosenberg has benefitted from stem cell therapy

"Our studies will tell us if adult stem cells in bone marrow can repair damaged hearts and if so how these cells should be administered to patients.

"There is growing evidence to suggest that stem cells may benefit people with serious heart conditions, such as heart failure or those who have had heart attacks."

Stem cells are the body's master cells, with the ability to turn into almost any type of cell in the body.

Dr Mathur said harnessing the cell's potential to repair damaged heart muscle good be good news for the 2.7m people with heart disease in the UK.

Link: BBC Health.

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The Placebo Effect

Dr Ben Goldacre of the Guardian has "made a modest second career out of rubbishing alternative therapies, or rather the pseudoscience of the claims behind them..."

Here he suggests that Placebos are just as effective as alternative therapies such as homeopathy - because they work the same way.

A new analysis of 110 placebo-controlled randomised trials of homoeopathy, published in the Lancet, showing there is no evidence that homeopathic tablets perform any better than placebos. Obviously, it's an important and useful finding. But it misses the mark.

The placebo is arguably the most interesting phenomenon in medicine, because it goes far beyond the effectiveness of little white sugar pills, into the cultural meaning of treatment. It has been shown, for example, that green sugar pills are a more effective treatment for anxiety than red sugar pills, because of the cultural meaning, we might parsimoniously assume, of the colours green and red.

Likewise, studies have found that salt-water injections can be a more effective placebo treatment than white sugar pills - not, I might add, because there is anything particularly useful about salt water injections, but because the ceremony of performing an injection is a far more invasive, authoritative and dramatic intervention.


Branding, of course, is the key to the efficacy of little white sugar pills. Marketing, after all, is nothing if not engineered cultural meaning. A four-way comparison among sugar pills and aspirin, in either unbranded aspirin boxes or packaging mocked up to look like the Disprin brand, showed that the brand-name packaging works, because of the huge wealth of cultural background material - the adverts, the word-of-mouth endorsement, the childhood experiences - that packaging plays on. The change in packaging had almost as big an impact on pain as whether the pills actually had any drug in them.

The implication for rationalists, who reach for generic, unbranded medications like aspirin and ibuprofen in preference to Disprin or Nurofen, is clear. It's perfectly rational to believe that expensive Nurofen is more effective than cheap unbranded ibuprofen, even if they've both got the same active ingredient - but only, in a peculiar tautology, if that's what you believe.

This, of course, is the key also to alternative medicine: homeopathy is what you might call a "complex intervention", rich in cultural meaning and drawing on such attractive contemporary ideas as individualism, patient empowerment and personalised healthcare


So the fact stands, not even slightly mocking us, that in many cases homeopathy does seem to help, as a complex intervention, laden with branded cultural meaning, at least better than "doing nothing". It is no better than placebo, because it is placebo, in all its rich glory.

Link: Guardian Unlimited.

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Bird flu virus 'close to pandemic'

Expert warns estimate of 7.5m global deaths is optimistic writes Mark Honigsbaum in The Guardian, Thursday May 26, 2005

A leading scientist warned yesterday that the avian flu virus is on the point of mutating into a pandemic disease and says that current estimates that such a pandemic could cause 7.5m deaths may understate the threat. His warnings come as experts writing in today's edition of Nature voice concerns about the world's inability to manufacture sufficient vaccines for a pandemic and warn of the impact that the virus - H5N1 - could have on the global economy.

In an accompanying editorial Nature argues that so far such warnings have "fallen on deaf ears". It backs a call by Prof Osterhaus and his colleagues at the Erasmus Medical Centre, in Rotterdam - one of the world's leading virus research labs - for a global taskforce to strengthen agencies on the ground. There have been 90 human infections in south-east Asia , from which 54 people have died.

But while culling and the vaccination of poultry appears to have slowed outbreaks in Thailand and other parts of south-east Asia, this year Vietnam has seen a worrying number of human infections in the same family groups. According to Prof Osterhaus such clustering could mean the virus is becoming more efficient at infecting humans - a precondition for a pandemic.

Another concern are reports which emerged from China last weekend that H5N1 was responsible for the deaths of 178 migratory geese at a wildfowl reserve in the western province of Qinghai earlier this month. Prof Osterhaus says the geese's deaths could be another indication that the virus is mutating and becoming more virulent.

The problem is that countries such as China and Vietnam are not providing animal and human health officials with enough data, leaving scientists in the dark.

According to the WHO, within a few months of the pandemic 30 million people would need to be hospitalised, and a quarter could be expected to die.

In his Nature commentary, Prof Osterhaus describes current estimates that a pandemic could infect 20% of the world's population and cause 7.5m deaths as "among the more optimistic predictions of how the next pandemic might unfold".

Link: Guardian Unlimited | Special reports | Bird flu virus 'close to pandemic'.

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Global Gene Project to Trace Humanity's Migrations

New DNA studies suggest that all humans descended from a single African ancestor who lived some 60,000 years ago. To uncover the paths that lead from him to every living human, the National Geographic Society today launched the Genographic Project at its Washington, D.C., headquarters.

The project is a five-year endeavor undertaken as a partnership between IBM and National Geographic. It will combine population genetics and molecular biology to trace the migration of humans from the time we first left Africa, 50,000 to 60,000 years ago, to the places where we live today.

Ten research centers around the world will receive funding from the Waitt Family Foundation to collect and analyze blood samples from indigenous populations (such as aboriginal groups), many in remote areas. The Genographic Project hopes to collect more than a hundred thousand DNA samples to create the largest gene bank in the world.

Link: Global Gene Project to Trace Humanity's Migrations.

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Minuscule microscope testing hope

Scientists have developed a tiny microscope - the width of a human hair - which they say could "revolutionise" the examination of biological samples.

Cardiff University researchers, lead Professor Paul Smith, said the optical biochip could help doctors test for diseases and develop new drugs. The team is looking to integrate the biochip into medical technology, such as diagnostic equipment.

The biochip, developed with a GBP2.2m grant, works by emitting tiny lasers which analyse a cell. Biological samples can be placed on the biochip - just visible to the human eye - which then relays what it finds via an electrical signal. Future generations may even be able to use these as the basis for hand-held system.

In theory, the biochip could detect diseases such as HIV, malaria and some cancers, or aid drug development by analysing how a cell reacts to a substance.

Link: BBC Health.

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