“Just a word”

In an official Medical Society Blog the following words were recently used in response to thoughts that I had submitted on a medical subject.  These singular words were put in inverted commas by a most senior healthcare professional who does not know me.

The Medical Society involved has since removed the post:

I share the view of Barrack Obama that we should all try and engage in debate with those who may have different views.

I would suggest that such “one word” approach [with words used to stain] may not encourage helpful debate.

Frailty – nothing about us without us

In September 2016, Professor Martin Vernon, National Clinical Director for Older People and Integrated Care at NHS England stated why diagnosing frailty is important:

In the same month Professor David Oliver had this Acute Perspective published in the British Medical Journal. It attracted over twenty responses many of which, but not all, were supportive.

I submitted this response as I was not convinced that “frailty” was inherently any less likely to stigmatise our older generation:

A year later, Dr Steve Parry, the Vice President of the British Geriatrics Society (BGS) had this perspective  published on the British Geriatrics Society Blog , asking “when does a well-meaning medical fashion become a potentially destructive fad?” This perspective also attracted over twenty responses.

A week later, the former President of the British Geriatrics Society, Professor David Oliver argued why he was “fine with Frailty”:

Dr Shibley Rahman, an Academic in Frailty and Dementia and has outlined why he is of the view that such a model, based on deficits only, if applied to our older generation could cause harm. This article also attracted many responses.

In a recent Acute Perspective Professor Oliver outlined his concern that the British public may not have realistic expectations when it comes to frailty and “progressive dwindling”:

My understanding is that the term “progressive dwindling” was first used by George J. Romanes in this 1893 book:

This is the context in which the term is used:

The dictionary definition of “inutility” is: uselessness or a useless thing or person.

Healthcare Improvement Scotland has been concentrating on frailty as one of its National Improvement initiatives. This first started in April 2012 and so has developed significantly in the five years that have followed. NHS Scotland staff have been reminded to “THINK FRAILTY”. Up until now the focus has been on deficits and how to “screen” for these with “toolkits”.

In a BBC Radio Scotland “Thought for the Day”, the broadcaster and writer Anna Magnusson recently considered the language that we use in relation to our older generation. I made this short film using her words and voice. I have shared it with Anna Magnusson and she wrote a kind personal response to me:

We are far more than our labels from omphalos

These words from an Edwin Morgan poem resonated with me as a description of the complexity of ageing:

The people best placed to assist in understanding the complexities of ageing and the language best used to describe it are surely the older generation themselves.

Delirium screening (some years later)

Over three years ago I wrote this summary of my concerns about mandatory delirium screening. The consequences for me in writing this were life changing: the reality of having the courage to care in NHS Scotland.

Time has moved on and we should consider recent statements on this subject:

6th June 2017: Dr Claire Copeland:
“Two heavyweights of the delirium world: Wes Daly takes on Professor Alasdair Maclullich: to screen or not to screen. Let the battle commence”

5th August 2017: Dr Sharon Inoyue:
“Very important. Studies show dramatic increase in antipsychotic treatment with mandatory delirium screening”

31st August 2017: Dr Dan Thomas:
“In the UK I would be very surprised if many with delirium in hospital left  on antipsychotics (which is good!)”. This is a speculative response to an article in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society which had found that “most patients with delirium discharged  on a new antipsychotic had no instructions for discontinuation”

Footnote:
Whilst evidence cannot ever be complete there has been
consideration of antipsychotic use for delirium:

 

Improvement science: engineering 42 – ethics 0

In my last post I considered a “thought paper” entitled “The habits of an improver” and welcomed that critical thinking was considered a necessary habit.

The word “engineer” or “engineering” is to be found on 42 separate occasions in this Health Foundation thought paper.

The word “ethics” does not appear at all. Despite the fact that the introduction begins with this quote:

That ethics do not seem to be considered amongst the “habits” necessary for “improvement science” is concerning.

The last time I looked, I found this result using the Healthcare Improvement Scotland search facility:

The former Chief Executive for the Mental Welfare Commission for Scotland used to introduce me as “Bayesian Peter”. Bayesian is the name given to interpretations of probability and returns to Reverend Thomas Bayes original considerations of complexity.

Healthcare, like life, is complex. We are human and live in an ever changing world.

This is not all so simply “engineered”.

Ethics is integral to science.  I do not deserve the epithet “Bayesian Peter” – for whilst I am interested in ethics this does not mean that I am more ethical than you the reader.

However, I want to say as clearly as I can, and yes with passion, that without ethical considerations “improvement science” should linger in quotes.

The habits of an improver

I have recently read this most interesting “thought paper” entitled “The habits of an improver” which was published by the Health Foundation in October 2015.

Several months before this was published, the Executive Clinical Director for Healthcare Improvement Scotland wrote to my employers  stating that “[this individual] clearly does not understand the improvement science approach”. This defamatory letter almost ended my unblemished career as an NHS doctor. I subsequently felt that I had no option but to resign from NHS Forth Valley after 13 years as a Consultant working in Clackmannanshire. The glowing and unsolicited feedback that I received on my resignation can be read here.

‘The habits of an improver’ would seem to confirm that it was in fact the Executive Clinical Director for Healthcare Improvement Scotland who lacked understanding of the “improvement science approach”. Two of the key ‘habits’ include (1) a willingness to consider conflicting points of view and (2) a requirement of critical thinking.

I have asked for an apology from Healthcare Improvement Scotland but it has been confirmed from the Chair, Dame Denise Coia, that this will not be forthcoming.

In a follow up post I will share evidence that appears to 
substantiate the concerns that I raised about mandatory 
screening for delirium.



 

Raised by the people of Scotland

Crowd-funding is nothing new. The Martyrs’ monument was funded by public subscriptions to redress the events of 50 years previously when five Scots were transported for sedition. Their speaking up for the common people was judged by those in authority to be “wicked and felonious”.

The Foundation stone for the Martyrs’ Monument was laid on the 21st August 1844:

400 people attended the laying of the foundation stone. 183 years to the day later it happened to be five of us who gathered for a peaceful protest recognising the ongoing imbalance in power between those in high office and those in the general population.

Walter Humes, writing in Scottish Review, 21st September 2015:

President Obama put this in a slightly different way:

Our protest also happened to coincide with a solar eclipse. My particular experience with high office has related to my petition for a Sunshine Act for Scotland:

Surely one of the reasons that we commemorate the past is so that we can learn from it. The voices of the people really do matter.

If NHS Scotland has been genetically-modified with QI

It is most welcome to hear from Philippa Whitford about positive outcomes of NHS Scotland’s collaborative approach to quality improvement and the learning that this might provide for the rest of the UK. I share Philippa Whitford’s concerns about the potential consequences of competitive systems such as occurs more in NHS England with providers, commissioners and contracts and the inevitable fragmentation that this brings. The integrated approach taken in Scotland along with the engagement of patients and frontline practitioners is indeed something to be most positive about.

However, NHS Scotland’s approach to Quality Improvement is based on what is known as “improvement science”. This is a relatively new approach to science introduced from the USA and based on methodologies from the engineering and airline industries. The Health Foundation, in its ‘Evidence Scan’ found a “real paucity of evidence about the field of improvement science” . The Health Foundation found papers on the conceptual nature of Improvement Science but concluded that: “none of these could be said to be seminal pieces of research acting as building blocks for the field as a whole”.

As far back as 2007 Brent et al identified that “ethical issues arise in QI because attempts to improve quality may inadvertently cause harm, waste scarce resources, or affect some patients unfairly.”

Scotland has two key National Improvement initiatives for older people in acute hospital care. One is for Delirium and the other is for Frailty.

The QI initiative on Delirium was reliant upon “screening tools” that were effectively made mandatory for all those aged 65 years and over admitted to hospital. Healthcare Improvement Scotland measured the “compliance” with the use of these “screening tools” across Scotland. On the wards I was finding that these tools were not infrequently being interpreted as diagnostic and that older people were sometimes considered as lacking in “capacity” on this basis. I was also concerned that this approach could lead to greater use of antipsychotic medication.

The QI initiative on Frailty is currently being implemented across NHS Scotland. This is despite the fact that there is no internationally accepted clinical definition for Frailty. More “screening tools” have been developed by Healthcare Improvement Scotland and “Frailty Hubs” are now being set up in most NHS Boards. It may be worth noting recent high-level disagreement amongst British Geriatricians about the validity of the “Frailty Industry” as one senior Geriatrician described it.

The experience of these national initiatives perhaps highlights the limitations of approaches which work best in mechanical settings. The same success cannot be guaranteed when applied to more complex presentations such as delirium and frailty.

It has recently been stated that “ethical approval is less burdensome” for QI. However I suggest that we must be wary of taking shortcuts that may result in potential harm as well as potential good. This is why ethics and philosophy have an established role in science.

Another risk is that if science is pre-determined as “improvement”, this may limit the acceptance of critical thinking.

Philippa Whitford concludes that in NHS Scotland “Quality improvement has made its way into the DNA of frontline staff”. I share the view that Quality Improvement has much to offer. However, if NHS Scotland has been genetically-modified with QI let us hope that the wider considerations necessary for science are included in the base-code.

Dr Peter J Gordon
Psychiatrist for Older Adults
NHS Scotland