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

 

Professional confusion

Like all those involved in healthcare I take delirium very seriously. I share in the collective determination to improve our approach, understanding and care of those experiencing this serious condition.

To improve it is important that critical thinking is given room.

This post is about the validated 4AT Rapid Assessment Test for Delirium:

In a recent medical educational lecture organised by Healthcare Improvement Scotland, the 4AT was described as a “screening” test.

One of the authors of the 4AT Rapid Assessment Test described it recently as a “screening tool”:

There seems to be a lack of consistency in the stated purpose of this test/tool. Has this test/tool been validated for screening or has it been validated for assessment? This is an important scientific and ethical matter in terms of how this test/tool may be both validated and implemented

 

 

Improvement science and consent: a failure of NHS Governance

I am an employee of NHS Lothian and have been ‘sign posted’ to the “New Capacity and Consent intranet page: important information for all staff.”

This is a screenshot taken on Friday 2nd June 2017:

The Capacity and Consent intranet page begins by reminding all NHS Lothian staff of the ‘Obtaining Consent’ Policy (2014):

The NHS Lothian ‘Obtaining Consent’ Policy (2014) informs staff that “failure to secure consent may constitute assault under common law in Scotland”.

All NHS Lothian staff are also reminded that “acquiescence when a patient does not know what the intervention entails, or is unaware that he or she can refuse, is not consent”.

Two years ago I wrote about national improvement work undertaken by Healthcare Improvement Scotland for older people in hospital in NHS Scotland and my concern that “compliance” had replaced consent.

Given my experience that the guidance from my employers (NHS Lothian) on consent and the explicit requirements of “compliance” mandated by Healthcare Improvement Scotland seem to go in opposite directions, I wrote seeking further guidance. I have had this reply from Healthcare Improvement Scotland.

In conclusion: I would suggest that a failure of NHS Governance in Scotland has led to a confusion about the rights of older people to give consent.