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

 

‘Progress depends on the unreasonable man’

Professor David Oliver is a doctor that I have huge respect for. His views, as expressed in the BMJ, and thus in short form, generally accord with mine [this is an observation and not a statement about the merit of our opinions].

As an NHS doctor who has ‘spoken up’ I read this ‘BMJ Acute Perspective’ by Professor Oliver with both interest and with gratitude.

I worry (perhaps I am not alone in this worry) if I might be considered as either “reasonable” or “unreasonable”? However I have a greater need, and that is to be true to who I am.

Truth generally rests between words like “reasonable” and “unreasonable”. This is  territory that needs freedom.

 

To learn from and cherish

In the Scottish Herald on the 1st October 2016:

the-elderly-should-be-valued-and-respected-1-oct-2016-2

reminded us all that:

the-elderly-should-be-valued-and-respected-1-oct-2016-1

and suggested that we:

the-elderly-should-be-valued-and-respected-1-oct-2016-3

Rebecca McQuillan  worried, as I do, that:

the-elderly-should-be-valued-and-respected-1-oct-2016-4

Our treasured NHS and those who educate us might consider:

the-elderly-should-be-valued-and-respected-1-oct-2016-5

As an NHS doctor for those who I value and respect I worry about the promulgation of a reductive language of loss. I often hear our older generation described as a “challenge” and that complex, and unique situations have been reduced to a single word, such as “frailty”, “capacity” and “delirium”. Language evolved over tens of millennia to avoid such simplification.

Rebecca McQuillan closes beautifully:

the-elderly-should-be-valued-and-respected-1-oct-2016-6

I shared this post with the British Medical Journal. There was 
an interesting reaction on social media to my post and to those made 
by others by the original columnist:

"some truly bizarre responses to what was a mainstream common 
on acute frailty"

"I am thinking of changing my BMJ column from 'acute perspective' 
to 'everybody must get Stoned'"

Validation of an OPAC delirium tool

In this post I wish to explore validation of one of the tools recommended by Healthcare Improvement Scotland to identify delirium in acute hospital.

The website for the 4AT can be accessed here. It states that:

4AT validated

Looking at these two published studies in turn:

053Tools

The following caveats are included in this validation study:

  1. One of the  main features of the 4AT test is that “no special training is required”. In this study 4AT assessments were “performed by experienced physicians, though no specific training in the 4AT was given”. The authors conclude that: “Further research is needed to assess the ease of use of 4AT among other professional groups of varying levels of seniority.”
  2. The authors also state that this study “did not assess inter-rater reliability for the 4AT or the reference standard assessment”
  3. This study was not set in A& E or hospital front-door settings.
  4. The authors of this study conclude that “because of insufficient power, we were not able to analyse the characteristics of misclassified (false negative and false positive) patients.”
  5. The authors of this study advise that “future studies in larger populations and other centres should further assess its performance, including the determination of whether detection of delirium using the 4AT may improve the clinical outcomes of patients.”

It seems very clear to me that the authors of this study have recognised that further assessment of the 4AT is required before its use can be considered to be reliable in populations other than that studied by the authors.

Here follows the second published study quoted as evidence of validation of the 4AT test:

054Tools

This study is set specifically in a Stroke Unit and thus its conclusions cannot be generalised to all acute admissions.

It is therefore welcome to see that a major study is being undertaken to further evaluate the 4AT test:

4AT validated UK Gov

Here are some extracts from the study protocol:

055Tools       051Tools

This study is not yet published. The protocol states that: 4AT further research

This research study has had ethical approval and is rigorous in its approach to patient consent. Obviously a research study includes different ethical dimensions when it comes to consent but, as I have reasoned in my last post, the use of a test that still remains to be fully evaluated also requires that ethical rigour.

informed consent

The study protocol outlines the hope that:

NICE delirium 2

However the study protocol also states that:

knowledge-mobilisation-4at-3

Healthcare Improvement Scotland, in their recent reports state that “OPAC tools work and are working in hospitals across Scotland”. One of these tools is the 4AT test.

In summary there must always come a stage where a research tool is evaluated in the ‘real world’. My concern is that Healthcare Improvement Scotland is encouraging the use of the 4AT in hospitals across Scotland without making it clear that it is still under evaluation. Given that “compliance” with the use of “OPAC tools” is being used as a measure of quality of care by Healthcare Improvement Scotland, it would seem justified to express concern about this.

Professor David Oliver recently had an opinion piece published 
in his regular BMJ column; Delirium Matters (24th May 2016). 
I wrote to Professor Oliver by e-mail to say that I agreed with most 
of what he said but that I was not as convinced as he was 
that the 4AT has been validated.

Professor David Oliver replied that it "beggared belief" 
that I would "nit pick" about this.

I replied:

"In terms of the word “validated”: this has a very clear 
scientific definition. My reading of the science so far is 
that the 4AT tool has not been validated either for 
screening or detection. 

My concern is a general one: that “simple”, “quick” and 
“no specialist training required” tools have the potential 
for harm when over-relied upon and that they may give 
the impression that a very complex condition/state 
is more simple and better understood than it really is."