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:

 

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

 

The Scottish Public: consulted on a Sunshine Act

The Scottish public were consulted on the need for a Sunshine Act for Scotland. Their response, in majority, was that this was necessary.

Almost a year-and-a-half on and the Scottish Government has provided no update to the Scottish people. This is disappointing given the Scottish Government’s assertion that “everyone matters” to them.

The lack of sunshine legislation in the British Isles is raised in this current BMJ News feature:

This response was submitted by Vagish Kumar L Shanbhag:

‘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.”