I was concerned about our most elderly

Why I resigned from NHS Forth Valley.
I resigned from work on the 6th June 2014. Some folk have been wondering why. Below I offer briefly the background to my decision to resign and why it was a matter of more than just principle.

I have worked for NHS Forth Valley as a Consultant in older adults in Clackmannanshire for nearly 13 years. I leave with an unblemished record.

It has been hugely rewarding for me and indeed a privilege to share in the lives of the wonderful elders of Clackmannanshire often in a time of need. The team of which I was part worked with dedication, compassion and professionalism even though at times we had to make difficult decisions due to the demands placed on our service. The support from colleagues in primary care, social work and third sector was greatly valued and our joint-working a source of satisfaction long before integration of services was ever considered.

As a consultant I faced the steep-learning curve of the non-clinical aspects of today’s medicine and the shifting sands of political mandates and targets.

What follows is a brief account. It is to help explain and perhaps allow wider reflection, including my own. It seems to me that finding the words to express complex matters in writing helps me to “see” better. I am aware that this will be one account, open to challenge as none of us (thank goodness) will have the same view on life.

The factors involved in my resignation were complex. Life is complex after all. The beginnings of all this go back many years when I was faced with a difficult situation. I was concerned that our most elderly were more at risk of mis-diagnosis of dementia. This was at a time of incentivised targets for the early diagnosis of dementia (HEAT target 4 in Scotland) and increasingly I found that elderly patients were being diagnosed with “early Alzheimer’s disease” but in fact did not fulfil internationally accepted clinical definitions of dementia. My concern was that in the late stages of life individuals who would never develop dementia were being told they had it.  My dilemma in speaking out about this was that very few others seemed to share my concerns. This seemed to me to be the case across a range of professions and jurisdictions.

My approach was first to discuss this with colleagues, which only confirmed that my view was that of the minority. I then raised the matter through the appropriate channels of line-management. Initially I was supported in raising my concerns. However this did not last: the most likely reason for support being withdrawn was that I was diverging from the majority.

From that time on my professional life got tough. I wrote an account of my concerns called “Peter’s Lost Marbles” the transcript of which I turned into a short film. This transcript and film were praised by the then Chief Executive of the Mental Welfare Commission and by the then Lead Policy Officer for Alzheimer Scotland. Both these National leads suggested that the transcript should be published in a journal and that the film version be used to encourage wider understandings of the complexities involved in the early diagnosis of dementia.

NHS Forth Valley decided that an “External Review” would be held. I was unaware that it had been documented ahead of this  External Review, by the Medical Director, Dr Iain Wallace that“ the main concern is with PG [Peter Gordon]”.

Increasingly isolated, and no longer included in strategic meetings to improve “joint working” it was difficult to know how to proceed. Through stress I was signed off by my GP and was off for 6 months. Interestingly having been off once before in 2004 (my only severe depression caused by discontinuation of Seroxat) I found that I was re-defined by certain Consultant Old age Psychiatrist colleagues as a case of “recurrent illness”.  I have found it very difficult to escape this stigma and my experience has been that my profession is just as likely as any other to see “illness” before the person.

I have always taken a pluralistic approach to science and have been a lecturer in Medical Humanities. I am interested in ethics, professionalism, philosophy and their crucial contribution to the evidence-based medicine that I aspire to follow. It was my interest in professionalism and my concern that medical education was inextricably linked to marketing that led me to advocate greater transparency in financial conflicts of interest. I have pursued this with some determination. I have petitioned the Scottish Government for ‘A Sunshine Act’ and have argued that we should at least have transparency of financial interests equivalent to that which we expect of our parlimentarians.

My experience has been that it is not easy to pursue transparency in the health service. If anybody is interested much of this can be followed here.

The final straw for me with NHS Forth Valley was that I no longer felt that my concerns about staffing levels in the team of which I was part were being taken seriously.

Update: March 2017:

NHSG003: Dr Peter J Gordon written submission on NHS Governance in Scotland:

I want to very briefly summarise my experience relating to two of the requirements of the NHS Reform (Scotland) Act 2004, which requires all boards to demonstrate
that staff are:

(1) involved in decisions;

(2) treated fairly and consistently, with dignity and respect, in an environment where diversity is valued;

I have worked as an NHS doctor in Scotland for 25 years. In 2014 I resigned from NHS Forth Valley after working for 13 years as a Consultant because of my experience that the Board were not complying with the above. I now work for NHS Lothian. I plan to retire early because of my experience when working in NHS Forth Valley.

On my resignation I received this feedback from patients, carers, colleagues and staff in many sectors. I have actively spoken up for patients when I have come across harm (unintentional or otherwise). I spoke up regarding two main areas:

(a) the Timely diagnosis of dementia

(b) Transparency of competing financial interests in NHS healthcare staff

Timely diagnosis has now been adopted right across Europe.
This approach had no support whatsoever in NHS Forth Valley. In terms of the 2004 Act I was not “treated fairly and consistently, with dignity and respect, in an environment where diversity is valued” for advocating a timely approach to the diagnosis of dementia.

Parliament: PE1493: A Sunshine Act for Scotland.
This was taken forward by me as an individual as a petition to the Scottish

The petition was closed last year after a Public Consultation found the Scottish Public supported my petition. In terms of the 2004 Act I was not “treated fairly and consistently, with dignity and respect, in an environment where diversity is valued” by NHS Forth Valley or other NHS Boards for advocating such transparency.

At the time before and after resigning from NHS Forth Valley I was not “involved in decisions” as required in the 2004 Act. There were communications about me with other NHS Boards such as Healthcare Improvement Scotland and NHS Tayside. I now believe I was “blacklisted” and that my references were influenced negatively by input from senior staff in NHS Forth Valley.

I have long since realised that there is no possibility of individual redress for me regarding my past treatment as an NHS Scotland employee. It is my hope that the committee will be able to encourage a genuine change in culture so that other employees working in NHS Scotland feel empowered to put patients first. It is essential that this is the case even when that employee finds him/herself in the minority amongst his/her colleagues or indeed challenging government policy.