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.



 

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

 

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.

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

 

 

NHS Scotland – it should not take courage to care

On the 17th July 2017, the Scottish Government announced an “Enhanced service for NHS Scotland staff”

The Scottish Government began this announcement stating that:

“Staff in Scotland’s health service will continue to benefit from external support should they have any concerns about patient safety or malpractice”

From 1 August, the NHS Scotland Confidential Alert Line will be re-branded as the Whistleblowing Alert and Advice Services for NHS Scotland (AALS).

This was reported in the Scotsman of the 17th July 2017:

The Scottish Government confirm the enhancements that have been made:

Some personal thoughts:

I have never been a “whistleblower”. I have however raised concerns relating to patient wellbeing and safety in NHS Scotland, and in particular for our older generation. I share the view of Sir Robert Francis that “freedom to speak up” is a better and more encompassing term.

My experience of trying my best to put patients first in NHS Scotland has left me with an interest in this matter and I have followed developments over several years now.

My concern is that this “enhanced service” has taken little account of the evidence presented to the Scottish Parliament from a wide range of individuals and professional bodies, including Sir Robert Francis.

Lifeboat NHS from omphalos on Vimeo.

The “enhanced” service will still not be able to independently deal with any concerns raised and so can offer only to “pass concerns on to the appropriate Health Board or scrutiny body for further investigation”. In practice this will be either to the NHS Board the employee works with or to Healthcare Improvement Scotland which is neither independent of Government nor of any of Scotland’s 23 other NHS Boards.

It worries me that senior Scottish Government officials continue to use words such as “grievance” or “pursuers” when talking about those who are trying to put patients first in NHS Scotland. It seems that the Scottish Government are as quick as any of us may be to label individuals.  This “expanded service” has been re-labelled in a positive way when the opposite has happened to many of us who have raised concerns about patient care.

In summary:

I feel that this is a disappointing outcome given the determination of the Scottish Parliament, and the Health and Sport Committee in particular, to ensure that there is freedom in NHS Scotland to speak up and put patients first.

I would suggest that despite this “enhanced service” that it is still going to take a great deal of courage to care in NHS Scotland:

Courage to care from omphalos on Vimeo.

Improvement goggles

What follows are three slides taken from a talk given by Dr Brian Robson, Executive Clinical Director, Healthcare Improvement Scotland and IHI Fellow, given at the Edinburgh International Conference of Medicine in September 2016:



 

I most certainly agree that culture is important. But what kind of culture? Is it healthy just to follow one? In this case the Institute of Healthcare Improvement, Boston.

The “Improvement Goggles”, it would seem, come as part of the “toolkit”?

As a doctor who is passionate about improving care it matters to me that I follow science that does not risk being pre-determined.

It is important that there is philosophical depth to the approaches that we take to healthcare.

I understand the overwhelmingly good intentions of all those involved in “improvement science”, however I would suggest that we should carefully consider the potential benefits and harms of a most determined “one organisation” approach that starts and ends with reductionist and mechanical algorithms.