The Coffee Break 88

Our news updates this fortnight includes a Kings Fund blog on the ineffectiveness of arguments; the coronavirus; and, and how a Google Artificial Intelligence (AI) system is better at detecting breast cancer than experienced radiographers.


Firstly this fortnight, we have a thought-provoking blog article from a former colleague who’s now with the Kings Fund. It considers how debate and argument – counter-intuitively – promote the status quo. People with opposing positions, when voicing their opinions, rather than being persuasive, tend to strengthen their own resolve leaving a debate in much the same way as it was before. As with the debates around Brexit, there’s no space for movement, only further entrenchment as each party tries to ‘win’ the argument.

The article goes on to discuss this phenomenon in the context of the NHS and leadership. Whilst promoting a collaborative leadership model, it asks, “have we got used to promoting collaborative leadership models in a way that silences those who don’t subscribe to that model?” And are we therefore, paradoxically, limiting collaboration?

The blog concludes that, instead of imposing a model for leadership, we, instead, need to encourage a culture that values “…a generosity of spirit,…a willingness to sit with the discomfort of really engaging with tensions that we find difficult, or even painful, on the basis that this may help us move on together.

Population Health

An article in the Guardian looks at how scientists are urgently seeking data about the coronavirus outbreak. Researchers say they need to find out if most cases have been caused by spillover of the virus from animals into humans, or whether they are now being triggered by secondary human-to-human transmission. In a study published in the Lancet, researchers revealed analyses of the first 41 patients admitted to hospital with confirmed cases of the infection. Two-thirds had been to a seafood market that also sold wild animals for meat. It’s thought this is the location where the virus ‘jumped’ from an animal source to humans. However, if new cases are now being triggered by human-to-human transmission, this increases the chances that a major global epidemic is now underway.

A research paper published this month in the British Medical Journal found that a healthy lifestyle – defined as, for example, drinking in moderation, never smoking, eating a healthy diet, staying slim and exercising regularly – could extend people’s disease-free life (absence of cancer, cardiovascular disease, and type 2 diabetes) by up to a decade. The study drew from data of over 110,000 people. The report concludes that, “…promotion of a healthy lifestyle would help to reduce the healthcare burdens through lowering the risk of developing multiple chronic diseases”.


Moving on, The Independent reports on a new study that suggests an artificially intelligent Google system could be better at spotting breast cancer than expert radiologists. Research published in the journal Nature saw the AI system and medical professionals both screening mammograms. The research concluded that the AI system was as good as the radiologists at spotting breast cancer and much better at avoiding false positives.

Mental Health

NHS Mental health director Claire Murdoch has warned video game firms that they risk, “setting kids up for addiction” by building gambling tasks into their games. The NHS have confirmed the opening of a new treatment centre, alongside 14 new NHS gambling clinics to address mental ill health linked to addiction. Concerns have been raised about children playing video games and spending large amounts of money – on virtual collections or ‘loot boxes’. Cases have included a 16 year old paying £2,000 on a basketball game and a 15 year old losing £1,000 in a shooting game. The Royal Society of Public Health said in December that it found that over half of young people believe that playing a video game could lead to gambling.

Health and Social Care

Finally this week, a short video from the BBC provides an amusing look at what healthcare will be available to UK citizens in Europe in the short and long term after Brexit. The key message is to take out travel insurance if you’re travelling abroad!