Fewer cases of euthanasia last year; doctors' concerns may be to blame

The number of reported cases of euthanasia has fallen for the first time since the practice was formalised in 2002, Trouw reported on Tuesday. There were 4,600 cases of euthanasia in the Netherlands in the first nine months of this year, a drop of 9% on the same period in 2017, Trouw said. Jacob Kohnstamm, chairman of the regional euthanasia monitoring committee, told the paper he is surprised at the reducation. 'Given the greying of the population, an increase was to have been expected,' he said. One possible explanation for the downturn is last winter's flu epidemic, which may have led to some people who would have requested euthanasia having a natural death, the paper quoted him as saying. However, family doctors dispute this, saying that euthanasia is usually requested by cancer patients and it is the frail elderly who are worst affected by flu. And a spokesman for the voluntary euthanasia society told Trouw that the decision by the public prosecution department to launch five criminal investigations into euthanasia cases may have had an impact. 'Our members are telling us that doctors are becoming more wary,' spokesman Dick Bosscher told the paper. Cancer The number of people helped to die under Dutch euthanasia legislation rose 8% last year to 6,585. In almost 90% of cases, the patient was suffering from cancer, heart and artery disease or diseases of the nervous system, such as Parkinson and MS. Three patients were in the advanced stage of dementia and 166 were in earlier stages. Euthanasia is legal in the Netherlands under strict conditions. For example, the patient must be suffering unbearable pain and the doctor must be convinced the patient is making an informed choice. The opinion of a second doctor is also required.  More >

Pharmacists ignoring doctors to cut costs

Pharmacies are routinely ignoring doctors' orders to give patients branded medicines in order to cut costs, according to a survey by the Dutch patients' federation. Doctors often specify that patients should receive a particular brand, adding the term 'medically necessary' to the prescription. Changing the manufacturer can lead to unwanted side-effects or reduce the effectiveness of the treatment. In a survey of 2900 patients who had been prescribed a specific brand, pharmacists struggled to obtain the correct medicine in 28% of cases, the Patiëntenfederatie said. Pharmacists said they often had no choice but to supply an alternative because of budgetary restrictions set by insurers. Federation spokeswoman Dianda Veldman criticised pharmacists for overruling doctors' without consultation. 'Often they don't tell the patients at the counter, so that people don't know they're getting a different medicine until their body reacts.' However, Aris Prins, of the pharmacists' organisation KNMP, said doctors used the term 'medically necessary' too liberally and cheaper medicines were not necessarily of lesser quality. 'Obviously some patients benefit from receiving a specific brand, but they are in the minority. Medically necessary is the most devalued term there is.' Prins argued it was more cost-efficient for pharmacies to keep several different brands of a medicine in stock. 'The preference policy is a matter of saving pennies in order to keep things affordable. That is one of the terms patients agree to when they take out an insurance policy.'  More >

Tiger mosquito spotted in Eindhoven

An Asian tiger mosquito has been spotted in Eindhoven, prompting government safety experts to put up more traps around the city in an effort to see if they are breeding. Locals living in a 500 metre radius of the sighting have been sent a letter by the public safety body NVWA warning them about the presence of the mosquito and asking people to empty plant pots which may contain water where the mosquitoes could breed. The mosquito was caught in a residential area, but it is unclear how it came to be in the hands of the NVWA. The NVWA is going to take steps to eradicate potential breeding grounds. Asian tiger mosquitos have been spotted in Weert, Amstelveen, Assen and Almere so far this year. The first one was found in the Netherlands in 2005. The tiger mosquito (Aedes albopictus) is a native of south east Asia and is thought to spread via bamboo plant imports and on car tyres. Dengue fever, yellow fever and encephalitis are among the diseases it spreads.  More >

Commercial use of dna results in reprimand

A professor at the VU teaching hospital has been given a formal reprimand for using dna material from female patients for commercial purposes without their permission, the NRC has reported. Chris Meijer also failed to mention his commercial interests in six academic journals, in one research proposal and in his recommendations about the national cervical cancer screening programme, the paper said. The LOWI, the highest Dutch body for academic integrity, said in its ruling that Meijer had 'contravened scientific integrity' with his actions, the NRC said. Meijer first hit the headlines in 2015 when the NRC reported he was involved in three companies which stood to benefit from the government's planned switch to self-testing kits for cervical cancer and had kept this secret. Meijer had lobbied hard for the introduction of the self-screening kits and was a member of the national health council at the time. The VU teaching hospital told the NRC it did not plan to take any further action against Meijer, despite the LOWI reprimand.  More >

Rotterdam widens health insurance scheme

Rotterdam city council is opening the health insurance scheme it set up for low-income households to all residents of the port city. The policy, which had targeted people with an income of less than 130% of the minimum wage, will now be offered city-wide, officials said on Thursday. 'We developed the policy for people with high care needs, who are vulnerable and don't have much money, alderman Sven de Langen told Radio 1 news. The policy, a joint product with insurance group VGZ, absorbs most of the compulsory €385 own risk payment. Policyholders have to pay just €50 towards the cost of their treatment over a year rather than the full amount. The premium for for the Rotterdampolis in 2019 has not been made public. This year the charge is €104.58 a month, plus €63.05 for top-up policies. Single people on low incomes can also claim up to €94 a month in healthcare benefits.   More >

Sharp increase in teen suicides

Of the 81 youngsters who committed suicide last year three in 10 had an immigrant background, a study by health officials has shown. The study also found that an average of seven teenagers kill themselves every week and that boys make up the majority of cases. One quarter (20) of the 81 cases of teen suicide took place in the province of Brabant. The number of teen suicides in the Netherlands had been stable at around 50 a year of a number of years but suddenly shot up to 81 in 2017. In June junior health minister Paul Blokhuis upped the budget for suicide prevention among teens by €2m to €5.4m. Blokhuis has now briefed a team of mental health researchers to conduct further studies into what is causing the increase in teen suicides. It will be the most extensive investigation into teen suicide so far in the Netherlands. ‘Great Britain and the United States are also seeing an increase and it will be interesting to compare findings,’ head researcher Renske Gilissen told broadcaster NOS. The team is expecting to come up with concrete ways of helping teens struggling with suicidal thoughts in 2019.  More >