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.

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.

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.

 

 

‘How to Improve’

The Nuffield Trust has recently published “Learning from Scotland’s NHS”. This report was based on a select group of “30 senior leaders and experts from Scottish health and care”.

One of the primary “learning points” of this report was that Scotland should be considered as “the model of how to improve healthcare across the British isles”. What is not made clear in this report is that the improvement methodology that Scotland has embraced was introduced from the USA not by “30 senior leaders” but by three:

  1. Derek Feeley, President of the Institute for Healthcare Improvement (IHI) and former Director General for NHS Scotland
  2. Professor Jason Leitch, who is a Dental practitioner, IHI Fellow and National Clinical Director of Healthcare Quality and Strategy (Scottish Government)
  3. Dr Brian RobsonIHI Fellow and Clinical Director of Healthcare Improvement Scotland

The “30 senior leaders and experts” would seem to be “marking their own homework”.

A few personal thoughts:

I am a passionate about science but am of the view that passion should not pre-determine scientific method and process.

I have previously argued why it is unhelpful to pre-determine science as “improvement”.

I fully welcome a coordinated approach to improving healthcare.

I worry about the inherent reductionism that is the basis of IHI “improvement science”

IHI promotes learning to healthcare based upon the experience of Industry (mechanical engineering). This may work well for less complex interactional processes, such as Hospital Acquired Infection. However healthcare is rarely linear (it is more often Bayesian) and reductionist interventions (however well intentioned) can cause harm.

I have found that Healthcare Improvement Scotland (IHI) does not routinely include ethical considerations in its approach to “improvement science”.

In summary:

I would suggest that it would have been more accurate (evidence based) for the Nuffield Trust report to have been titled: “Learning from the USA”.

I welcome all learning and from all reaches of the globe. I also seek improvement. But as a philosopher and NHS doctor (of 25 years) I worry about any one-system approach.

Science needs to consider culture, ethics, narrative, and the experience of being.

“How to Improve” needs to consider the voices of people and place. It should not just be the voices of the “senior leaders and experts from Scottish health and care”.

 

 

 

 

Quality Improvement and ethics

Response by Dr Sian F Gordon and Dr Peter J Gordon, 4 June 2017

This Acute Perspective by Dr David Oliver has our interest, in part because we all embarked on our career in medicine around the same time.We very much share Dr Oliver’s advocacy for “the actions and engagement of frontline practitioners and the real world context in which they work” and agree that these “are critical to success.”

We would like to contribute in the spirit of critical thinking  regarding the place of ethics in Quality Improvement (QI).

Dr Oliver states that QI can deliver “tangible outcomes” and that it has “a methodological and theoretical rigour and peer community of its own”.

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.”

Dr Oliver states that “ethical approval is less burdensome” for QI. We are of the view that ethics must be one of the necessary starting principles for any QI work and would argue that any attempt, however well intentioned, to demote ethics from this role might result in outcomes that may not be described as “improvement”.

 

 

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."