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Introduction To NHS hot topics and healthcare current affairs
Healthcare current affairs and NHS hot topics are constantly changing and evolving, which is why it is essential that you stay up to date and follow emerging news stories yourself.
Here is a rundown of the key NHS hot topics and healthcare current affairs that you should be aware of, as of May 2020. COVID-19 is the single biggest topic at the moment, but there are other NHS issues and healthcare topics that you should also be aware of.
This is not a definitive list but a few topics to start you off. We strongly suggest that you build on this list and formulate your own thoughts around more NHS hot topics and any healthcare current affairs.
COVID-19 has changed the way we live and is likely to have long lasting effects on healthcare and medicine. On a global scale, it has shown the importance of cooperation and how fast research can moved when it is pushed to. It is a pandemic unlike anything in living memory. The origins of the virus and how the world have reacted has raised many questions about pandemic preparedness and what we can do as a global community to ensure that next time we do better to prevent so many deaths.
You might get questions about the global situation, especially with COVID-19, but UK medical schools often like to ask about the NHS as it is such a unique healthcare system. Make sure that you stay up to date with the news throughout the crisis so that you are prepared to answer questions on topics that were big issues in the UK.
Testing is a massive part of the effort to keep COVID-19 under control. There are different types of tests – one to tell you if you currently have the virus and another which looks for antibodies in the blood. The latter has the potential to determine whether someone is immune to the virus, however it is not yet known how much immunity someone has after recovery.
A vaccine has been hailed around the world as the only way out of this crisis and there are many ongoing vaccine and drug trials. Consider how this will impact the NHS – reducing pressure if fewer people become unwell and fewer patients needing intensive care or hospital care at all if an effective treatment is developed. A prophylactic treatment may even be possible – given to people to prevent them developing symptoms.
PPE and the lack of it in the NHS and care sector has been a big news story. Inadequate PPE led to worries about staff safety and the ability to treat patients. The government’s attempts to procure PPE have been big news so be sure to be up to date on the latest with this issue.
Ageing and multimorbid population
The UK’s population is ageing which has many implications for different aspects of society. When the NHS was founded in 1948 promising care that was free at the point of delivery, people did not live for as long as they do today and diseases of ageing are way more prevalent today, such as dementia for example.
The health needs of the population have changed dramatically and multimorbidity is part of this – when someone has 2 or more long term conditions such as diabetes and hypertension.
The health of the population is radically different however the NHS has not had a big overhaul or restructuring since its conception. Services are needing to change and adapt to the needs of the UK population. One part of this is the focus shifting from treatment to prevention.
With conditions such as obesity on the rise, prevention will play a huge part in improving the health of patients and increasing health span in the UK.
As of 2019, 1 in 12 posts in the NHS were vacant, with the situation not improving in 2020.
This shortfall leaves staff over stretched and the vacancies are generally filled by agency staff, which is more costly for the NHS and results in a lack of continuity of care. Patient care can be directly affected by the shortages.
Nurses are the group that have the highest number of vacancies, pointing to a problem in recruiting nurses in the first place. Up until 2017, the UK provided a nursing bursary until it was scrapped by the government but was partially reinstated at the end of 2019.
The NHS has been increasingly recruiting healthcare professionals from overseas which is also an issue. Healthcare professionals coming over from Europe has declined over the past few year (at least in part due to Brexit) and encouraging healthcare professionals to work in the UK from other countries such as India or the Philippines is taking away from their domestic workforce where they might be needed.
The past few years have seen numbers of measles and mumps cases rise, reflecting a lower proportion of children being vaccinated.
This largely comes from the university population, many of whom did not receive two doses of the MMR when they were children, in part due to the Andrew Wakefield controversy which falsely linked the MMR vaccine to autism.
The UK is still not reaching its target of 95% coverage – the level generally required for herd immunity and lost its measles-free status recently, representing a worrying step backwards.
There are so many hot topics at the moment that have been temporarily eclipsed by the COVID-19 crisis.
Gene editing is always in and out of the news, whether for incredible advances for new treatments curing single gene disorders or ethical controversies such as germline editing in China on embryos that went on to be born. Gene editing is big part of the future of medicine so well worth knowing about its potential and associated ethical dilemmas.
Antibiotic resistance poses a huge threat to healthcare, with a lack of new antibiotics being discovered and increasing resistance to the ones that are currently used. Without new antibiotics, medicine faces the threat of returning to the dark ages where a common infection could lead to death.
In May 2020, England changed to an opt-out system for organ donation. This could really help to increase the number of transplants and decrease the numbers of patients dying whilst on the transplant list. The ethics involved in this are important so be sure to revise this topic.
Mental health is an incredibly hot topic for the NHS. For years, there have been concerns about lack of funding to the sector and long waiting lists for patients. The pandemic is undoubtedly impacting the mental health of the populations and there are huge concerns that there will be a mental health epidemic following the COVID-19 one. Keep up to date with the news on this emerging hot topic.
Why are NHS and healthcare hot topics important?
As a prospective medical student, it is important that you are aware of the current affairs surrounding healthcare and understand the potential implications. Demonstrating an understanding of the field that you are one day hoping to work in is essential, and this includes understanding the wider challenges.
Issues such as antibiotic resistance and an increasing proportion of the population having 2 or more chronic conditions are just two examples of factors that will heavily influence the job of doctors in the future.
Factors such as the ageing population may even lead to a restructuring or a change in the way NHS services are run. It is important for you to understand what you are going into.
These issues shape the work you will be doing in the future and the environment in which you work in. As a medical student and doctor, it will continue to be important for you to keep up to date with topics that affect the NHS and the latest scientific advances that will affect the practice of medicine.
The best ways to keep up to date with current affairs
There are lots of different ways people like to stay up to date with current affairs.
The most popular method is using a news app on your phone. This is the method that I personally use – I have the BBC app and have put topics such as healthcare, science and the NHS on my personalised feed. I try to check this every morning whilst I have breakfast so that I consistently stay up to date with the news.
I also have notifications on, so I catch any major breaking news throughout that day and am prompted to check the app if I haven’t already.
Some people like to watch the news at a set time. If you have a routine of watching the 10pm news for example, this is great too. Any major science news will feature in the mainstream news and anything affecting the NHS will usually feature too in the UK.
As interview season approaches, it is good practice to write yourself 2-3 questions on a current affairs or healthcare news story that you have read. You can then try to answer these later in the day or the following day.
These questions should be considering how the news impacts the NHS, could lead to advancements in medical practice that benefits patients, or perhaps considering ethical and wider issues.
This will help you to feel prepared to answer interview questions on current affairs.
Example current affairs and hot topics Interview questions & Answers
Current affairs and hot topics are constantly evolving, so it is important that you stay up to date and practice answering questions on the news stories that you come across each week.
Here are 3 example questions with a guide on how to answer them that you can hopefully apply to other similar questions.
Try and read through the information above and think about how you would answer these questions before reading our guided answer.
#1: How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected the NHS and what might the long-term impacts on healthcare be?
This pandemic is far from over at the time of writing (May 2020) so this will depend on what has happened by the time you do your interview.
You are quite likely to get asked something or other about COVID-19, whether that is about the potential of a vaccine or how resources are prioritised in a pandemic.
To answer this question, it is probably good to start off with some background on what has happened so far before looking ahead to how the health service will continue to be affected or even change long term.
The NHS cancelled all routine surgeries and is slowly reopening services. It prepared to be overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients and expanded its intensive care units.
There were huge staff shortages on top of the existing ones due to staff off ill or self-isolating. The need to don protective gear when treating patients was a big change, as was not allowing visitors.
There are lots of examples you can use for how the pandemic has affected the NHS so far. This bit is testing how well you keep up with current affairs.
The second part is more about you drawing some conclusions for yourself. You could argue that this along with the crisis in social care may be the push the government needs to merge health and social care.
Long-term, you might think about how the NHS may have better measures in place to deal with pathogens not seen before. Another possibility is that this could be used to restructure the NHS with more focus on prevention and self-management.
Something to consider is that humans may have to co-exist with this virus for a while. If so, there will have to be procedural changes in healthcare and a change in the way that COVID-19 is handled. More focus on possible preventative drugs and stopping patients becoming so unwell that they require a hospital or intensive care bed.
There are many avenues you can go down with this question and it is well worth practising as the situation evolves.
#2: How is the ageing and multimorbid population affecting healthcare in the UK?
This is a huge question with many different aspects, many of which were discussed above.
A good strategy for a question this broad is to acknowledge the wide-ranging impacts and pick 2-4 key issues to focus on, as you will have limited time in an interview or MMI station.
Things that I would pick for this question would be that diseases of ageing are now more common and take up a lot of NHS resources, such as dementia and cancer becoming more common.
When the NHS was founded multimorbidity was rare and lifespans have increased since then. More complex patients require more MDT involvement and cross-specialty coordination. There is an argument for the restructuring of the health system to better account for this and the changing population.
There is a shift towards prevention rather than treatment as a national focus is to increase the amount of healthy lifespan.
Although lifespan has increased since the birth of the NHS, healthy lifespan hasn’t so much. It is in the interests of the NHS to promote health rather than just treating those with health problems and there is an increasing burden caused by ageing and multimorbidity.
You might choose to focus on an entirely different aspect such as the changing role of GPs.
Complex patients are needing to be managed in a different way to the patient that comes in with one issue. There are many aspects you can choose to focus on for this question, just stick to a few and lay out your points clearly.
#3: What do you think the significance is of news story X?
This is likely to be very specific to what is going on at the time. X might be a promising drug trial, a new prevention strategy or the invention of new technology.
I am going to use a story I have seen in the news recently (May 2020) as an example, with X being a microbe that was shown to completely stop malaria.
It completely protects mosquitos being infected with malaria and does not harm them at all and may even be beneficial. This has huge potential as malaria is still a big killer causing more than 400,000 deaths each year worldwide, with Africa carrying almost all of this burden.
Vector control is currently the best way to prevent malaria, using insecticides and mosquito nets. There have been other ideas to combat malaria once and for all such as making enough male mosquitos infertile so that mosquitos die out within a few generations (problem: not sure what impact this would have on ecosystems) and putting in a gene drive (problem: not sure on the long term consequences of this and could go wrong).
This news story is exciting as the microbe is naturally occurring in up to 5% of mosquitos anyway and the only consequence stopping the mosquito from carrying malaria.
If scientists can find a way to put this microbe into enough mosquitos, this could be very successful for reducing and potentially eradicating malaria.
Top tips for current affairs and healthcare interview questions
Current affairs and healthcare news are always changing, which makes interview questions or stations on this topic quite daunting. Here are my top tips for tackling interview questions.
Stay up to date!
Stay up to date daily with healthcare news, especially in the weeks leading up to any interviews.
Think before you speak.
Pause before you answer – make a quick plan for what you are going to say
Consider all sides of the argument.
Don’t give a short answer – give points for both sides of the argument.
Think about the bigger picture.
Talk about the wider implications of the news story on the NHS and society.
Don’t waffle on, come to a conclusion when you have said your key points.
Healthcare and current affairs are important topics for you to be confident with by the time it gets to your interview.
Getting into the habit of reading the news everyday and setting yourself a few interview style questions to tackle, you can build up your skill at reasoning through this type of question.