We are far more than our labels

“National Improvement” work for older people has focused on Frailty and in NHS Scotland we are reminded by healthcare Improvement Scotland to “THINK frailty”

This short film is based on “thought for the day” by Anna Magnusson, BBC Radio Scotland, Friday 5th August 2017.

Music is “Seeing the future” by Dexter Britain (under common license)

We are far more than our labels from omphalos.

Haloperidol prescribing to Scotland’s elders

In a previous post the FOI returns on Haloperidol prescribing in NHS Scotland were shared.  This followed on from my consideration of a BMJ report regarding the scale and potential harms of  such “off-label” prescribing to our elderly in hospital.

Since that time I have had a response from Professor Jason Leitch, National Clinical Director, Healthcare Quality, Scottish Government:

Letter from Prof Leitch

Today I have sent this reply to Professor Leitch:

To: Professor J. Leitch,
National Clinical Director, Healthcare Quality,
Healthcare Quality and Strategy Directorate
Planning and Quality Division
St Andrew’s House,
Regent Road,
Edinburgh EH1 3DG

8th June 2015

Dear Professor Leitch,
I was most grateful to receive your letter of reply dated 2nd June 2015.

I thought it best to reply to you to clarify the focus of my concerns. I wish to try and keep my reply short and focussed on the points you raise.

Point ONE:
You state that the Scottish Clinical Advisor for Dementia informed you that the “off-label use of Haloperidol for dementia is not especially unusual”. This would seem to diverge from  this BMJ change page made by NHS England’s National Clinical Director for Dementia, Professor Alastair Burns (I attach the full paper)

Dont use

You cite SIGN 86 guidelines on Dementia. These guidelines were issued 9 years ago when it was stated that “they will be considered for review in three years.” SIGN 86 is specifically for dementia and not delirium. The SIGN website indicates that there is no current plan to update SIGN 86 nor to introduce a Guideline on Delirium:

SIGN 86 was criticised in this research: Knűppel H, Mertz M, Schmidhuber M, Neitzke G, Strech D (2013) Inclusion of Ethical Issues in Dementia Guidelines: A Thematic Text Analysis. PLoS Med 10(8): e1001498. doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001498. I find it disappointing that an outdated and flawed guideline is still the basis for prescribing in dementia.

Ethical issues

Point TWO:
Haloperidol prescribing is part of the “Comprehensive Delirium pathway” introduced across NHS Scotland by the Scottish Delirium Association (SDA) and Healthcare Improvement Scotland (OPAC). You will be aware of this as I note that you are giving the key-note talk this week at the conference: Transforming delirium care in the real world”. Over a year ago the Secretary of the Scottish Delirium Association asked me to summarise my views on delirium improvements happening in Scotland. I did so and shared these with the SDA and with OPAC. I am disappointed to note that no reply has been forthcoming. I attach this summary for you with this letter.

Transforming delirium care in the real world

Conclusion:
It is welcome to hear that the Scottish Government are taking actions here. It is the case, by Scottish Government figures, that antipsychotic prescribing is increasing year-on-year in NHS Scotland. I seek improved care for individuals with delirium and dementia. I am concerned that current approaches, along with staff shortages and increased demands on staff time, are making it more rather than less likely that our elders may receive antipsychotic medication that can result in significant harms.

Yours sincerely,
Dr Peter J. Gordon

Included with letter:

Update, 5th October 2016. The following was published on the 
front page of the Scotsman newspaper: 

"Mental health prescriptions hit ten-year high"

prescriptions-for-mental-health-drugs-10-year-high-nhs-scotland-2016-a prescriptions-for-mental-health-drugs-10-year-high-nhs-scotland-2016-b

The figures are from the Scottish Government and can be accessed here.

“OPAC tools are working”

It is over a year since I last wrote about delirium. Being aware that the new Care Standards for older people in hospital were to be published this month I had a look on the Healthcare Improvement Scotland web platform for these new standards. As yet these standards have not been published, but I did notice the news that “OPAC tools are working”. I followed the links, read the supporting material, and watched all the associated films:

[The costs of films commissioned from the private sector by NHS 
Healthcare Improvement Scotland has been over £51,000 from 
January 2014 to February 2015]

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A lot has happened in acute care settings for Scotland’s elders since I last wrote. It is wonderful to see in these films such compassion and dedication to care amongst the healthcare teams: from allied health professionals, nurses and doctors. I agree with Professor Jason Leitch that this demonstrates a caring culture.

It was some years ago that I heard Professor MacLullich give a talk about delirium. I was inspired by his thoughtful presentation which outlined the distressing symptoms that can come with states of delirium and the associated increased risk of mortality.

In this post I will not be considering improvement work undertaken on “frailty”. In what follows I intend to further explore the Healthcare Improvement Scotland strapline: “OPAC tools are working” with particular reference to delirium.

In terms of “working”, only two key figures are given by Healthcare Improvement Scotland. The first confirms that there has been 95% “compliance” with “assessment tools” for delirium.

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The other key figure demonstrates that length of hospital stay in orthopaedics for older people has been reduced since the introduction of “frailty and delirium assessment tools”:

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In what follows the OPAC tools currently being used in hospitals across Scotland to “identify” delirium will be considered. Two specific issues continue to concern me:

(1) the risk of too great a reliance on any “brief” “tool” rather than this being part of an overall assessment; and
(2) the marginalisation of consent.

(1) Reliance on a “brief” “tool”:032Tools

The 4AT has been revised since I last wrote. It was previously described by its developers as “a new screening tool for delirium and cognitive impairment” (see below):

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The latest version (at time of writing) is version 1.2. The developers “have decided to describe” the 4AT now as an “assessment test”:

Version 1.2 4AT

As an “assessment test” the 4AT requires:

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The 4AT “assessment test” is also noted for its:

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The 4AT:

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The four questions that comprise the AMT4 are as follows:

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It is important to appreciate that the 4AT test is different from other tools for delirium as it incorporates the AMT4. The AMT4 is a screening tool for cognitive impairment alone. To explain further this test is in effect used to screen for dementia. This is an important point because there has been very wide debate about cognitive screening. Cognitive screening is recommended by neither the UK National Screening Committee nor NICE. Another point is that using brief tests for delirium and cognitive impairment at the same time is an approach novel to the 4AT.

Given that the 4AT test incorporates a test of cognition it is relevant to consider whether our cognitive function can so easily be encapsulated in a “very brief” test. The 95 year old philosopher, Mary Midgley, has said this about “tests”:

031Tools

Mary Midgley then goes on to say:

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Cognitive ageing has become an area of great interest since Professor Lawrence Whalley of Aberdeen University began research in this area and some of his findings are summarised in his book, the Ageing Brain.

Professor Whalley reminds us that the brain is such an incredible biological wonder. Each of us have 100 billion neurons in our brains, and whilst this may change with ageing, it is still the case that our neurons, even on our last day in life, amount to:

The shock of the fall (9)

Recently this lead Editorial was published in the Lancet:

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It repeats the reminder of Professor Whalley that:

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To many it appears counter-intuitive that something so complex as human brain function can be reliably assessed in a test that takes less than 2 minutes. In a follow-up post I will look at the work currently being undertaken to evaluate the 4AT.

(2) Marginalisation of consent:
“Compliance” with the 4AT “assessment test” is being measured in Scotland by Healthcare Improvement Scotland. My concern here, that I have expressed before, is that such an approach marginalises the right of the individual to consent or otherwise to this assessment.

I have become aware through my own clinical practice that even brief cognitive tests can be distressing to patients and can leave them fearful (the following quote is from a patient undergoing a short cognitive screening test but not the 4AT):

039Tools

Another reason to be concerned about consent is that our cognitive abilities tend to follow a parabolic distribution through life. It would be a mistake to disregard this when undertaking complex diagnostic considerations.

In March of this year the UK Supreme Court judged that it was for patients to decide whether the risks, benefits and alternative options of assessments or medical interventions have been adequately communicated:

014Tools

Treatments may bring harms as well as benefits. This is why explanation of risk should be an ethical underpinning in our interactions with a patient.

The Scottish Delirium Association (SDA)  has issued delirium pathways for use across NHS Scotland. The “OPAC tools” are generally the starting point in these pathways. The SDA Comprehensive pathway states very clearly:

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This pathway outlines environmental and general measures, alongside medical and nursing approaches to manage delirium which has been identified using the 4AT test. If these measures are not in themselves sufficient to improve the state of delirium, the Comprehensive Pathway outlines further interventions:

041Tools

A recent audit of Haloperidol prescribing in NHS Scotland has confirmed the findings of the Scottish Government that in our acute hospitals prescribing of antipsychotics has been rising year on year.

To try to identify how much of this rise comes from prescribing for those aged 65 years and over, the 0.5mg capsules and 1mg/ml liquid haloperidol are likely to be indicative.

In one Scottish NHS Board (see table below), we find that haloperidol prescribing in those aged 65 years and over in the acute hospital has nearly doubled since cognitive screening was introduced and monitored at NHS Board level.

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This is a recent study published in the Lancet:

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The authors of this study argued that:044Tools

Summary:
In these films Healthcare Improvement Scotland outlines that “OPAC assessment tools work, and are working in hospitals across Scotland”. There is no doubt that delirium is a condition associated with significant morbidity and mortality. It is also clear that we have a long way to go in understanding such a complex condition. Given this, my concerns about the over-reliance on brief tools used at outset and the marginalisation of consent are unchanged.

In a follow-up post I will look at the work currently being undertaken to evaluate the 4AT.

Update, 5th October 2016. The following was published on the 
front page of the Scotsman newspaper: 

"Mental health prescriptions hit ten-year high"

prescriptions-for-mental-health-drugs-10-year-high-nhs-scotland-2016-a prescriptions-for-mental-health-drugs-10-year-high-nhs-scotland-2016-b

The figures are from the Scottish Government and can be accessed here.