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:

 

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

 

 

Early detection: “We need critical thinking”

The following analysis: “Surge in publications on early detection” was recently published in the BMJ. The authors concluded that “we need more critical thinking and more studies that specifically target both benefits and harms of early detection”:

The authors of this analysis will no doubt welcome the following response as a good example of critical thinking. This reply was submitted by Robert Steele (Independent Chair of the UK National Screening Committee); Anne Mackie (Director of Screening, Public Health England); John Marshall and Zeenat Mauthoor (both PHE Screening)

Submissions such as this reinforce my view that the criteria and principles that apply to screening must also be applied to early detection and “case finding”.

A tall, slightly stooping, gaunt figure

Dr Robert Hutchison died in 1960, seven years before I was born. However, his appearance as depicted in the portrait (above) reminds me of Roald Dahl. One of his closest friends and colleagues described him in this way:

Dr Robert Hutchison, like Roald Dahl, is recalled for his wonderful way with language. One of my favourite quotes – about the profession in which we have shared across centuries – is by Hutchison. I still find it extraordinary that he wrote this in 1897:

Robert Hutchison was born at Carlowrie Castle, Kirkliston, in 1871.

In the early 1990s I lived with Sian in Kirkliston, at Humbie farm cottages. I was then studying Landscape Architecture at the University of Aberdeen and Sian was completing her GP training in Livingston:

In 1893 Robert Hutchison graduated in Medicine and Surgery at the University of Edinburgh. Like me, he was a very young medical student, but unlike me he was far more promising.

Robert Hutchison delivered his first baby in 1894 at the Simpson Memorial Hospital Edinburgh. I was born in this same hospital 70 years later.

1897, aged just 26 years of age Robert Hutchison co-authored: Clinical Methods: A Guide to the Practical Study of Medicine:

This is still used and is now in its 23rd Edition!

Robert’s sister Isobel Wylie Hutchison was quite amazing. She was a poet, polyglot, painter, botanist and Arctic traveller. She could speak Italian, Gaelic, Greek, Hebrew, Danish, Icelandic, Greenlandic and some Inuit.  Carlowrie remained a home for her to return to from travels, although the upkeep was hard and the castle did not have electricity until 1951. Isobel died at Carlowrie in 1982, aged 92.

I was delighted to see Dr Robert Hutchison quoted in a recent BMJ response by Dr Amr K H  Gohar. This was in response to this BMJ Analysis:

Dr Gohar titled his response: Primum non nocere (first, do no harm). He summarised the potential harms from early detection which he said may include: overdiagnosis and overtreatment, false positive findings, additional invasive procedures, negative psychosocial consequences, and harmful effects on bodily function.

Dr Gohar confirmed his view [that]: “This does not mean that such early detection should be ignored but it means, as this article stresses, that early detection should be balanced. Critical assessment of early detection including early detection technologies and strategies in clinical practice is indispensable to avoid the persisting bias that early detection is only beneficial.”

This returned my thoughts to communications that I have had with Healthcare Improvement Scotland an NHS Board that is primarily guided by the American organisation: the Institute of Healthcare Improvement.

I have in Hole Ousia expressed my concerns about the approach taken to detection by Healthcare Improvement Scotland. My concerns have related to the lack of consideration of harms of  “National Improvement” drives and the continued marginalisation of consent.

Robert Hutchison may have died seven years before I was born. But in 1897 he wrote words that I consider to be most prescient:

"From inability to let well alone;

from too much zeal for the new and contempt for what is old;

from putting knowledge before wisdom, 
science before art, 
and cleverness before common sense;

from treating patients as cases;

and from making the cure of the disease more grievous than 
the endurance of the same,

Good Lord, deliver us."

 

 

 

 

‘Informed consent is a fundamental principle underlying all healthcare’

A recent Independent Review for NHS Scotland stated that: “Informed consent is a fundamental principle underlying all healthcare”

The Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport, Shona Robison stated to the Scottish Parliament (17 March 2017): “Informed consent and shared decision making are expected prior to any procedure being carried out.”

On the 20th April 2017, I wrote to Healthcare Improvement Scotland 
about Patient consent in NHS Scotland:

I have just completed my annual Appraisal which is a General Medical Council requirement as part of 5 yearly Revalidation. As part of this I was informed by my Appraiser that I must comply with all the LearnPro modules which I have now done.

The following screenshot comes from the NHS Lothian mandatory LearnPro module on Capacity and Consent:

I apologise as the text is small, so I have reproduced verbatim what it states to me as an NHS Lothian employee:

“Consent is both a legal requirement and an ethical principle and requires to be obtained by healthcare professionals, prior to the start of any examination, treatment, therapy or episode of care.”

“In Scotland, everyone over the age of 16 is an adult. The law assumes that adults can make their own decisions and can sign legal documents, such as consent to medical treatment (in some circumstances this also can apply to children under the age of 16) provided they have the capacity. This means that they are able to understand what is involved in the proposed treatment, retain the information, be able to weigh up the information needed to make the decision and then communicate that decision. Treatment might be delivered in a hospital, clinic or in someone’s home.”

In years past I have written about consent for older adults in hospital in NHS Scotland:

Do we care enough about consent?

‘OPAC tools are working’

I am writing to Healthcare Improvement Scotland as I find myself confused.

Do I follow the mandatory requirements of my employers on consent? Or do I follow the National Improvement requirements of OPAC-HIS where consent is not required for assessments such as the 4AT assessment test? (formerly called “4AT screening tool”)

I know, from the re-drafted Care Standards, that Healthcare Improvement Scotland take consent very seriously.

I should state that I am writing in my own capacity and in my own time.

12 May 2017 - I sent this update to Healthcare Improvement Scotland:

Forgive me for this further correspondence but I felt that I should update you on the learning that I received as part of my attendance for Continuing Medical Education (CME) yesterday.

This CME event was for the Royal College of Psychiatrists in Scotland – Faculty of Old Age Psychiatry and was held in Falkirk.

At this event the Chair of Old Age Psychiatry for the Royal College of Psychiatry was giving a talk and when the time came for questions I asked about the wide use of haloperidol in older adults in hospitals in NHS Scotland. Dr Thompsell replied “evidence has found that Haloperidol actually worsens the outcome of delirium”.

Another lecturer at this meeting, who was giving a talk on her area of expertise: anti-psychotics and older adults, was Dr Suzanne Reeve. She replied: “Haloperidol does increase mortality in older people compared with other antipsychotics. That message has been out for a while but has not really got across.”

The next talk was entitled “Successes of Old Age Psychiatry Liaison team” and one of the slides shown had the headline “Compliance with 4AT”. The impressive “compliance” figures then followed. The dictionary definition of compliance is “the act of yielding”.

My concern here is for patient harm and indeed increased patient mortality. National Improvement work undertaken by HIS has been instrumental in increasing “compliance” with tools such as the 4AT and it is clear that no consent is deemed necessary. I have argued that this is not ethical as these tools are often the beginning of “pathways” and “protocols” that may result in the administration of haloperidol.

I am genuinely worried that National Improvement work undertaken by Healthcare Improvement Scotland has not properly considered ethics, available evidence and the potential for unforeseen consequences. You will understand that I am also nervous about writing this letter given the consequences for me when I first “spoke up” three years ago:

I would very much value your advice. I am not sure that I can work in a profession if it loses sight of Hippocrates and “first do no harm”.

This is the response from Healthcare Improvement Scotland,
dated 17th May 2017:

“Thank you for your letter of the 20th April and your letter of 12th May, in which you raise the interesting issue of taking consent in relation to cognitive screening.

I understand from staff involved in the inspections of older people’s care in hospital that taking of written consent prior to initial assessment for frailty is not routinely undertaken. Assessment at the point of admission, or where a change in a patient’s cognitive presentation is giving cause for concern, can alert staff to possible increased risk and enables planning of care for the patient. In these circumstances staff adopt a proportionate approach such as asking, for example, if they may ask some questions.

For absolute clarity though, as an employee of NHS Lothian, the requirements set out in the Board’s policies and mandatory training are those that you should follow.”

 

Prescribed Disengagement

A friend of mine (a colleague) recently asked me to “explain” disempowerment.

Another dear friend of mine (diagnosed with dementia) has written about: “Prescribed Disengagement”.

It has struck me that: a very fine colleague, and a very fine friend, represent today a wide spectrum of understanding.

Kate's-poetry

My view is that few have written better about this matter than Kate Swaffer. Along with Richard Taylor, Kate has been a pioneering and brave voice amidst a prevailing world of “understanding”.

Kate Swaffer visited Scotland this summer and kindly took great trouble (Kate and her husband Peter had to rearrange their travel plans) to meet with me in Bridge of Allan.

I am not one for accolades, triumphalism, or plinths, but for me Kate deserves all.

Kate is a pioneer of sense. In a world where we constantly hear a load of nonsense about dementia.Kate Swaffer visits Mossgrove 30 June 2015

Why I left social media

I enjoyed social media.

I left social media on the 31st December 2014.

I did so as I no longer felt safe to be Peter.

Here I refer explicitly to my experience in asking questions of improvement work in NHS Scotland.

Capture2 Capture3 Capture4Karen Goudie - improve conversations

Yellow socks and handstands

There is a lot of effort in NHS Scotland to raise awareness amongst healthcare staff about delirium, using statements like this:

am1

Delirium is a very complex state and it is a shame that awareness is not always accompanied by understanding of this complexity. This is not surprising as delirium is poorly understood. It remains unclear to what extent delirium is itself a risk factor for mortality, rather than simply reflecting a multi-morbid state where each condition carries its own risks:

yellow socks and handstands

[the above is an excerpt from Inside Health last week]

The following slides come from recent awareness-raising events in NHS Scotland:

Resource into OPAC THINK delirium across scotland

These “busy slides” perhaps do reflect some appreciation of the complexity of delirium. What appears to be lacking is meaningful and informed involvement of patients:

Informed choice

Margaret McCartney stated in this:

Rather than submission

In her book “The Patient Paradox” Margaret McCartney said:

awareness

All awareness campaigns can suffer from the difficulty of communicating complexity and recognising gaps in understanding. Oversimplified approaches to what is undoubtedly a serious condition could have unintended consequences and this has to be given serious consideration.

A letter to Professor Jason Leitch

Image

In this post I reply to Professor Jason Leitch, whose letter of the 2nd June 2015 on Haloperidol prescribing to Scotland’s elderly can be read here:

Jason Leitch Delirium

This is the link to my summary on Delirium Screening written March 2014 at the request of one of those involved with improvement work in delirium. I shared this with Healthcare Improvement Scotland, the Scottish Delirium Association and OPAC (Older People in Acute Care Improvement programme). I had no replies.

Recently this automated e-mail arrived:

Jason Leitch, unread letter deleted

I thus contacted Professor Leitch to clarify. This is the response I received:

e-mail: 25 September 2015 

Dr Gordon, I can assure you that not only did I receive and read 
your email of 8th June, I still have it. I noted its content and 
following our earlier correspondence didn’t feel it required a 
response. I also read our correspondence which you published 
on your blog. 

Professor Jason Leitch, National Clinical Director.

The following behind-the-scene communications were recently released as a result of a Data protection request. The communications indicate a tone of disdain for those who may write regularly to DG Health and Social care.

director-general-of-nhs-scotland-e-mail-to-jason-leitch-national-clinical-director-who-is-not-registered-with-the-gmc

I had asked if Professor Jason Leitch might confirm if he is registered with the General Medical Council. Again there is clear evidence of a most disparaging tone made by two of the most senior figures in the DG Health and Social care. One has to worry for other correspondents who write with legitimate concerns about patient wellbeing and safety.

communications-between-deputy-director-nhs-scotland-and-national-clinical-director-25-sept-2016

Professor Leitch chose not to answer my question about registration with the General Medical Council however he did kindly supply a most abbreviated CV which would indicate that he is not medically trained and qualified. Professor Leitch’s qualifications are in Dentistry and he is registered with the General Dental Council. This is important in that Professor Leitch gives advice as National Clinical Director for NHS Scotland yet he is governed by a regulatory body that is not for general medicine.

national-clinical-director-and-director-general-25-sept-2016

 

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.