Psychiatry Without Borders

The International Congress of the Royal College of Psychiatrists took place in Edinburgh, the city of my birth, between the 26 – 29 June 2017. This International Congress was called “Psychiatry Without Borders”.

As a psychiatrist who has worked in NHS Scotland for 25 years I made a peaceful protest outside the International Congress.

I have previously petitioned the Scottish Parliament to consider a Sunshine Act for Scotland which would make it mandatory for healthcare workers and academics to declare potential financial conflicts of interest on an open public register.

The pharmaceutical Industry has this year increased payments to healthcare workers and academics for ‘promotional activities’ –  from £109 million up to £116.5 million today.

The Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI) has, from 2015, established a voluntary disclosure system with searchable database. It remains the case that 65% of those who have received payments have opted out – and this accounts for 60% of the total payments (as reported in the British Medical Journal (BMJ 2017;357:j3195)

What follows here are the ABPI disclosures made by some of the speakers at the 2017 Royal College of Psychiatrists International Congress.

It is important to note that it is my understanding that no speaker 
was paid for giving presentations at this International Congress. 

These declarations relate simply to the voluntary declarations
for the years 2015 and 2016 respectively.

If you click on each declaration you will get a closer view.

In previous posts I have provided as much public transparency as there is currently available  relating to the potential financial conflicts of interest of those involved with the British Association of Psychopharmacology (BAP). This Association works closely with the Royal College of Psychiatrists in providing Continuing Medical Education.

A number of those involved in BAP have chosen not to declare on the ABPI Register. For this reason, I attach the declarations given along with the new BAP Guidelines for treating dementia as Professor John O’Brien was giving a talk about these guidelines at the 2017 International Congress:

A few personal thoughts:

Well done to those who have declared on the ABPI Register.

However, it remains the case that we cannot scientifically consider the scale of potential biases that financial incentives may bring to the prescribing of medications in the UK. This is because we have an incomplete dataset. This is surprising given that we do have longstanding evidence that exposure to industry promotional activity can lead to doctors recommending worse treatments for patients.

I would like to see the College, of which I am a member, support the public’s request for sunshine legislation.

 

 

Transparency at the Top

I wrote “Transparency at the Top: British Psychiatry” in April 2015 but did not share it publically as I wanted to give the Royal College of Psychiatrists time to improve the governance of financial conflicts of interest. Over the last 2 years improvements have been made by the Royal College of Psychiatrists however the system in place is unsearchable, costly, and bureaucratic. It also does not help determine how much of the £340 million that the pharmaceutical industry pays each year for “promotional activities” goes to the “top” educators (key opinion leaders) in UK psychiatry.

Sir Professor Simon Wessely has been an outstanding President and has carefully listened to the concerns that I have kept raising on this issue. This week he hands over the Presidency of the Royal College of Psychiatrists to Wendy Burn.

Tomorrow, the International Congress: Psychiatry without Borders begins in Edinburgh. I will be protesting outside because I remain concerned about the considerable reach (to the many) of a handful of educators: “The Law of the Few”.

  Here follows my original transcript, dated 25 April 2015:

The Chief Executive of the GMC recently confirmed in the BMJ:

To ensure public transparency of financial payments to healthcare workers and academics both France and America have introduced a Sunshine Act. In the UK we do not have such statutory basis to transparency. Royal colleges rely on Guidance such as this guidance, CR148, by the Royal College of Psychiatrists*:

The Royal College of Psychiatrists Guidance, like The GMC, gives clear and unambiguous guidance*:

The Royal College of Psychiatrists has recently expressed that, in addition to such clear and unambiguous College guidance (CR148), that the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI) “central platform” to be introduced in 2016, will ensure transparency that will “so avoid some of the criticisms of yesteryear”:

The ABPI “Central Register” has no statutory underpinning and any healthcare worker or academic can choose to opt out of revealing any financial payments made from industry.

It is perhaps then an opportune time to consider whether the Royal College of Psychiatrists is correct to express confidence that we may be able to “avoid some of the criticisms of yesteryear” in regards to transparency in regards to the relationship between industry and psychiatrists. To consider this, we might do well to look at some of the key College leads. So to start at the top this should include the current President of the Royal College of Psychiatrists. Such a consideration should also include the current Chair of the College Psychopharmacology Committee. To be properly representative of College leads, this consideration should also include a Psychiatrist who is today widely considered as a ‘key opinion leader’ in British psychiatry.

The only purpose of this consideration is to attempt to examine if our College leads are exemplars in transparency and to attempt to establish if they have followed College guidance CR148.

Sir Professor Simon Wessely was elected last year as President of the Royal College of Psychiatrists and took presidential office on the 26th June 2014. The week after his appointment, Professor Wessely was interviewed on BBC Radio 4 and, as part of this public broadcast, was part of a discussion with James Davies, University of Oxford:

This is an emphatic statement made publicly by the President of the Royal College of Psychiatrists.

In fact Wessely has been transparent about “Financial Disclosures” as given here following a co-authored review paper published in JAMA in 2014: “Dr Wessely has received financial support from Pierre Fabry Pharmaceuticals and from Eli Lilly and Co to attend academic meetings and for Speaking engagements.”

This full transparency helped Joel Kauffman consider the 2004 JAMA Editorial and this can be read in full here. But meantime, here is the relevant extract:

Those at the top of British psychiatry would appear to have a range of definitions of “transparency”? It is certainly very clear that Sir Professor Wessely does not have anywhere like the volume of working relationships with industry as some of the other current College leads. Last year Wessely gave the keynote lecture “Psychiatry under fire” at the following conference. This was not a sponsored talk as the programme makes clear. The Conference was organised by Professor Allan Young who confirms that the “objective” of this symposium is to provide “independent” education to help “achieve personal CPD objectives and in your everyday clinical practice”.

Professor Allan Young is also Chair of the Psychopharmacology Committee of the Royal College of Psychiatrists and his declarations are publicly available here where he confirms that he is paid for “lectures and Advisory Boards for all major pharmaceutical companies with drugs used in affective and related disorders”. Professor Allan Young may well be one of the most influential ‘key opinion leaders’ in British psychiatry. In this role, as a most influential educator Professor Allan Young has recently been considered here and here.

Also giving a talk at this 2014 “Latest Advances in Psychiatry Symposium” is Professor Guy Goodwin who is also considered to be a “key opinion leader” and who is undoubtedly one of those at the “top” of the hierarchy of British Psychiatry.

Professor Guy Goodwin featured centrally on the BBC Panorama programme in the following month. This programme was titled “who is paying your doctor” and Dr Goodwin came under considerable scrutiny. However it should be the case, that such scrutiny should include not just a single, individual “key opinion leader” but those like the Chair of Psychopharmacology Committee and the President of the Royal College of Psychiatrists. For patients to have trust in the medical profession it should be the case that such leads are exemplars when it comes to transparency of financial interests.

Following the Panorama programme in which Professor Guy Goodwin featured, the Head of Professor Goodwin’s University Department, had an article published in the BMJ where he expressed the view that the media harm caused by raising the subject of transparency “may outweigh any good”. An alternative view is given here. As a result, Dr David Healy, Director of the North Wales Department of Psychological Medicine offered a proposal to ensure wider consideration of transparency in British Psychiatry. This proposal for a “proper and open debate” was copied to a wide range of individuals including Professor Goodwin and had previously been discussed with Sir Simon Wessely. The correspondence can be read here .

As President of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, it is clear that speaking proportionally, most of the research Professor Wessely has been involved in has not involved working with the pharmaceutical Industry. Wessely is after all a professor of psychological medicine at the Institute of Psychiatry, King’s College London and head of its department of psychological medicine. Compared to some of the psychiatrist colleagues around him, and in particular “key opinion leaders” it is no doubt the case that Wessely has worked less with industry. However, it is not the case that he has “never worked with industry” as he emphatically stated on Radio just after becoming President of the Royal College of Psychiatrists.

In the past, Professor Wessely has helped prepare review articles through “educational grants” from the pharmaceutical industry. It perhaps may be argued that this is not “working” with industry. Though College guidance CR148 does seem to be much clearer in what it expects in terms of transparency. This was one such article involving Wessely and another one can be accessed here.

A few years before College Guidance CR148 was introduced, and long before Wessely was elected President of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, he gave his personal view on ‘working’ relationships with industry and insisted that it was “time we doctors grew up”. At the time, the BMJ published a range of views, and one of these has been included alongside Wessely’s to demonstrate this range. Professor Wessely’s personal view is now over a decade old and it would be helpful to know if his views have changed over this period of time.

Summary:
Is it the case that calling for transparency regarding financial payments may cause more harm than good? Some of those at the top of British psychiatry would appear to have put forward this view, arguing that such will damage public trust. Yet the GMC are clear what they expect of their professional group, namely doctors. Is it not time that we had an open public debate about this involving more than those just at the top?

*Since writing this CR148 was replaced in March 2017 by CR202

       Update of 11 June 2017: "The Law of the Few"

 

 

“The Law of the Few”

Malcolm Gladwell in his book ‘The Tipping Point’ describes what he terms “The Law of the Few”: namely that the influence of a few people can result in change in behaviour across a wider population.

This Hole Ousia post is about the education of psychiatrists and takes all its material from publically available sources. This post hopes to demonstrate the considerable reach (to the many) of a handful of educators.

This post follows on from the evidence that was gathered for my petition to the Scottish Parliament to consider introducing a Sunshine Act for Scotland. That petition closed 16 months ago following a consultation with the Scottish public who, in majority, asked that payments made to healthcare workers and academics be declared on a mandatory basis. I have argued the reasons why I am of the view that such mandatory declarations should be registered on a single, open, central, searchable, independent database.

Evidence has demonstrated that when a doctor has a financial “conflict of interest”, this can affect the treatment decisions they make, or recommend. There is longstanding evidence that exposure to industry promotional activity can lead to doctors recommending worse treatments for patients.

The post has come about following my invitations in the last month to Continuing Medical Education (CME) provided in my place of employment (NHS Scotland). I do not knowingly  attend sponsored medical education and so declined these two talks. The first was by Dr Peter Haddad (sponsored by Lundbeck) and the next one, just two weeks later, was by Professor McAllister Williams (sponsored by Lundbeck).

I am an ordinary psychiatrist working in a provincial NHS general hospital and to find such prominent individuals visiting our wee corner of Scotland left me to reflect upon the wide influence of a few key individuals.


The British Association for Psychopharmacology (BAP) describes itself as “a learned society and registered charity. It promotes research and education in Psychopharmacology and related areas, and brings together people in academia, health services, and industry.”

Professor Hamish McAllister-Williams is an Ex-Officio Member of BAP and is currently the BAP Director of Education.  Dr Peter Haddad, former Honorary General Secretary of BAP, has been involved over a number of years with BAP education providing articles and masterclasses.

Over the course of my career as a psychiatrist I have frequently heard colleagues say that BAP “is the place to go” for CME.  It is now a requirement for General Medical Council Appraisal and Revalidation to demonstrate with our College that we have participated in CME. Once this has been demonstrated the Royal College of Psychiatrists will issue a Certificate of “Good medical standing”.

As BAP Director of Education, Professor McAllister Williams recently shared this offer to trainee psychiatrists. Following the dissemination of this I took the opportunity to look more closely at the current BAP calendar for Continuing Medical Education. This again demonstrates the wide influence of a small number of individuals, some of whom would appear (within the limits of the current voluntary disclosure regime) to have potential financial conflicts of interest.

In the remaining part of this post I have included a few examples

As BAP Director of Education, Professor McAllister Williams chaired this BAP 2015 Summer Meeting: “Expert Seminar in Psychopharmacology”. The key-note speaker was Professor Stephen Stahl who many consider as one of the most influential key opinion leaders in world psychiatry.

In the USA, pharmaceutical and medical device companies are required by law to release details of their payments to doctors and teaching hospitals for promotional talks, research and consulting. This was the return for Professor Stahl at the time of his contribution to BAP as an educator of UK psychiatrists:

In the UK disclosure of payments is on a voluntary basis.

Professor David Nutt, former BAP President, has declared financial interests on the voluntary ABPI Register. Over the ABPI “disclosure period”, Professor Nutt has declared just short of £46,000 that he has received from Janssen-Cilag Ltd and Lundbeck Ltd.

There are strong links between BAP and the Royal College of Psychiatrists. The President Elect for BAP is Professor Allan Young.  Professor Allan Young is Chair of the Psychopharmacology Committee of the Royal College of Psychiatrists. Dr McAllister Williams, the BAP Director of Education is an appointed member of this Committee. Some years ago I wrote this post about the Royal College of Psychiatrists Psychopharmacology Committee.

Some years ago I put together this Hole Ousia post on Professor Allan Young and also this post. It is clear that Professor Allan Young remains a very active educator and opinion leader in the UK and beyond:

Professor Guy Goodwin was President of BAP between 2004 and 2005. In April 2014 he featured prominently on  BBC Panorama:

On the 40th anniversary of BAP, Professor Peter J Cowen was given the Lifetime Achievement award:

Professor Philip J Cowen featured in this post of Hole Ousia of some years back: All in the past? Well no. Definitely not.

Conclusion:
The recently retired CEO of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, Vanessa Cameron, who had been with the College for 36 years was interviewed for the Psychiatric Bulletin in December 2016. This was the view that she expressed:

Each time I reconsider this subject I do not find evidence to support this view. My worry is that the Royal College of Psychiatrists is being complacent in facilitating the education of the many by such a small group of individuals. The Law of the Few.

Footnote:

If you click on each invite below you will access what is available 
in the public domain regarding the educational activities of the 
recent speakers. I apologise if this is in any way an incomplete 
record.

 

Stifling distortions












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To seek balance in the appreciation of where expertise rests: my submission on PE01651

Submission on PE01651: Prescribed drug dependence and withdrawal

Made by Dr Peter J Gordon

Date of submission: 3rd June 2017.

Submission made in a personal capacity.

I am writing in support of this petition. I am an NHS Consultant Psychiatrist who has worked in this specialty in Scotland for almost 25 years now. My wife has worked as a General Practitioner in Scotland over the same period. I have an interest in ethics, human rights and the medical humanities generally. One of the areas I have taken much interest in is informed consent.

I would argue that this backdrop may mean that I can add some thoughts and reflections that might help the Committee in the consideration of this particular petition.

I should make it clear that as an NHS psychiatrist I do prescribe antidepressants and other psychotropic medications. I try to do so following the best available evidence as considered as relevant or not to my professional understanding of each unique patient and their life circumstances.

I wish to keep this summary short as I am aware that the Committee receives a great deal of evidence. So I offer a few points of evidence that I would be willing at a future date to expand upon if that were felt to be helpful:

• Antidepressant prescribing In Scotland (ISD figures) has been rising year-on-year in Scotland for at least the last ten years (this is also true of all other prescribed psychotropic medications). It is estimated that 1 in 7 Scots are now taking antidepressants and many of these in the long-term.

• At a recent Parliamentary Cross Party Meeting on Mental Health and older adults an invited speaker stated that: “depression is under-recognised across all age groups” and that “maintenance treatment has a good risk-benefit ratio.”

• A key opinion leader and Government advisor has previously argued that prescribing of antidepressants in Scotland is “conservative” and “appropriate”.

• Many of the key opinion leaders “educating” doctors prescribing antidepressants in Scotland appear to have significant financial interests with the makers of these medications. Across the UK, £340 million was paid by the pharmaceutical industry in the last recorded year to healthcare workers and academics for such “promotional activities”.

• “Informed Consent” will not be possible if the information that doctors base prescribing on follows such promotion rather than independent, and more objective, continuing medical education. This issue is now at the fore of the Mesh Inquiry.

A few questions that need to be considered:

  • When patients are prescribed antidepressants are they informed that as many as 1 in 2 will be taking antidepressants long-term?
  • Are patients informed that there may be a significant risk of pharmacological dependence on antidepressants?
  • Do patients know that their experience of antidepressants may be considered less valid than the experts (who may have been paid by the pharmaceutical industry) who educate other doctors (who may be unaware of this potential financial bias)?

Summary:

My view is that antidepressants are over-prescribed in Scotland.

My view is that patients have not been properly informed of benefits and risks.

My view is that appropriate prescribing has not been realised due to a number of factors: the lack of access to psychological therapies or other meaningful supports; the wide promotion of antidepressants where marketing is routinely conflated with education; and a culture of increasing medicalisation generally.

I would suggest that this petition might be considered in light of the Chief Medical Officer’s Realistic Medicine campaign. It is time for balance to be re-established between “medical paternalism” and the valued, vital and real-world experiences of patients who are taking medications like antidepressants. I am particularly disappointed in my own College, the Royal College of Psychiatrists for not making greater effort to facilitate such balance. Without such, I fear more harm will result from inappropriate and costly prescribing in NHS Scotland.

Finally, due to widespread “off-label” promotion of antidepressants in Scotland, patients may experience withdrawal syndromes which can be most severe and precipitate mental states far more serious than the mental state for which they may have originally been prescribed.

I would urge the committee to consider this petition most carefully and to seek balance in their appreciation of where expertise rests.

Continuing Medical “Education”

To be revalidated by the General Medical Council all UK doctors have to evidence participation in Continuing Medical Education (CME). This is based upon an accredited system of Continuing Professional Development (CPD).

CPD is mandatory.

This Hole Ousia post considers CPD for UK psychiatrists.

This week I was included in a circular e-mail that ‘sign-posted’ this free CPD educational opportunity for trainee psychiatrists. I was asked to share this with trainees.

BAP is acronym for the British Association of Psychopharmacology. I frequently hear colleagues describe it as “the place to go to” for CPD.

This is the current Calendar:

I have written on a number of occasions over the last few years to BAP about transparency of financial conflicts of interest:

BAP have now significantly improved on transparency and each speaker now has a link to any declared financial interests. This is available to professionals and public alike.

The declarations however give no details of amounts paid for any particular service.

BAP educational events are regularly advertised in the British Journal of Psychiatry

The Chief Executive of the Royal College of Psychiatrists recently offered this reassurance (Psychiatric Bulletin, December 2016):

Last year £340 million was paid by the Pharmaceutical Industry to UK healthcare workers for “promotional activities”.

There is currently a voluntary register (ABPI).

The BMJ reported this in March 2017:

As it stands, professionals, patients and public alike can have no clear understanding of where this £340 million went to in the UK for “promotional activities”.

However we do have evidence that promotional activity can lead to doctors recommending worse treatments for patients.

Returning to the Continuing Professional Development (CPD) calendar that the British Association of Psychopharmacology (BAP) is currently providing. It took me a full day to go through the declarations. These follow below, in alphabetical order of  educator:





In summary it is encouraging to see these declarations of financial interests for BAP educators. This is a group of professionals who have a position of significant influence over the prescribing patterns of current and future psychiatrists. This means that even those doctors who regard themselves as not being subject to conflicts of interest may be indirectly influenced.

It is my concern that this potential influence is not always recognised by colleagues attending CPD in good faith and this is my reason for compiling this post.

‘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.”

 

May it be granted the older you are

On the 26th of April 2016 I attended the Cross Party Group on Mental Health and Older People, Age and Ageing, held at the Scottish Parliament. The following is an  account of my experience of this meeting and some reflections on conversations that have followed it.

At the end of this post are included two papers that were submitted ahead of the Cross Party meeting: a paper by me entitled “May it be granted the older you are” and a paper by Mr Hunter Watson entitled “Psychoactive Medications”.

I have been to quite a number of Scottish Parliamentary Committee meetings but this was the first Cross Party Meeting that I have attended. How welcome it was to see such a good turn out with a packed committee room. I am inclined to conclude that this indicates how important it is that we value our older generation. It was however unfortunate that other parliamentary business meant that various parliamentarians had to absent themselves.

I was  keen to attend this meeting for a number of reasons. Having an interest in the Scottish Government’s “Ten Year Vision” for Mental Health I had attended one of its consultation events in Edinburgh and had also submitted a written response. There were  574  written responses in total, which again seems most encouraging.

Given that opportunities for anyone to raise discussion, at parliamentary level, about the Scottish Government’s ‘Ten Year Vision’ may not come along very often, I felt it was important, as the only NHS psychiatrist for older adults at this Cross Party meeting, to do my best to put forward the experiences of my patients.

I was very impressed that the convener, Sandra White, MSP made sure that as many voices as possible were heard at the meeting. I wrote to thank her for this.

I was particularly struck by the compelling and worrying testimonies of Rosemary Carter and Dianna Manson whose experiences as older adults with mental health issues remind us starkly how important it is that policy makers consider very carefully the consequences of visions set for the years ahead.

Rosemary Carter highlighted her experience of how the dominance of cognitive assessments in my profession has reduced capacity to care for those who have non-cognitive mental ill health. As a professional working in this area I share her concern and am of the view that Rosemary is far from alone in her experience. When the Dementia Strategies and Targets were first introduced in Scotland from 2010 onwards, it was my concern about this potential for inverse care, and for increased stigma associated with ageing, that led me to advocate publicly for a timely approach to the diagnosis of dementia. I did so at a time when this approach had no support whatsoever from policy makers, healthcare or the Mental Welfare Commission.

I thought that Angela Dias of “Action in Mind” spoke with clarity and genuine concern about what she termed “institutional discrimination” relating to older adults with mental health issues living in Scotland today.

Mr Hunter Watson’s concerns about human rights for older adults do, in my opinion, need to be carefully considered.

The Principal Medical Officer for Scotland, Dr John Mitchell, acknowledged several times the evidence that those with chronic mental health disorders die 15-20 years earlier than those who do not. He stated at this meeting that this is a “huge finding, a universal finding, a huge inequity”. Academics are increasingly of the view that one of the potential reasons for such early death has been the prescribing of psychiatric medications. This is why I mentioned a number of times at the meeting the widely gathered evidence (PE1493, Sunshine Act for Scotland) that the pharmaceutical industry continues to have a significant role in the “education” of Scottish doctors in the prescribing of psychiatric medications.

I thought the presentation by Dr David Christmas was most interesting and share his concern that there is an imbalance in research studies across the age ranges. I raised a number of questions with Dr Christmas because he works as a “super-specialist” and so deals with a very select group of patients.

At the Cross Party meeting Dr Christmas stated that “depression is under-recognised across all age groups” and that “maintenance treatment has a good risk-benefit ratio.” He did so without acknowledging that these statements cannot be made with absolute certainty.

I have attended a wide range of GMC-required Continuing Medical Education (CME) and so over the years have found that I have attended a number of educational talks given by Dr David Christmas. He always carefully talks through his declarations of interest which for at least the last five years do not  include any financial interests other than his employment with NHS Tayside as the Clinical lead of the Advanced Intervention Service.

Dr Christmas is a member of the Psychopharmacology Committee of the Royal College of Psychiatrists. The Chair of this most influential committee (in terms of the prescribing of psychiatric drugs) is Professor Allan Young, a “key opinion leader”. Professor Allan Young declares his extensive financial interests as follows: “Paid lectures and Advisory Boards for all major pharmaceutical companies with drugs used in affective and related disorders” . A similar key opinion leader, Professor Stephen Stahl, gave a keynote talk at the British Association of Psychopharmacology in 2015. As he is American, and they have a Sunshine Act, it is possible to establish Professor Stahl’s earnings from promoting psychiatric drugs. When last looked at, this was more than $3.5 million dollars. In the absence of a similar Sunshine Act in the UK we cannot establish the scale of payments made in the UK.

Dr Christmas has given educational lectures alongside Dr Hamish McAllister-Williams who is also a member of the Psychopharmacology Committee of the Royal College of Psychiatrists (RCPsych), and who was appointed in 2012 as Director of Education for the British Association of Psychopharmacogy (BAP).

Dr McAllister-Williams declares a wide range of financial interests with the Pharmaceutical Industry. Dr McAllister Williams is “a major contributor” to the RCPsych and BAP Continuing Professional Development programme.

It was with this knowledge, of the influential position that Dr Christmas has in terms of the education of UK psychiatrists, that after the Cross Party Meeting I wrote to ask Dr Christmas to ask if he might support a Sunshine Act for Scotland?  At the meeting Dr Christmas took time to carefully address other biases (which I share his concern about) but did not do the same for the financial biases that may affect the advice given by key opinion leaders. The same potential exists for research itself.

In my correspondence with Dr Christmas I  reminded him that I prescribe both antidepressants and antipsychotics but explain to patients that the best evidence we have is generally based on short-term studies and that all interventions (including psychological interventions) can have both benefits and harms.

I have  confirmed with Dr Christmas that I share his determination to seek science that is as objective as possible and that this means that I realise that biases do indeed come in all forms and not just financial. I simply argue that science should be based on transparency or it ceases to be science. My view is that it is not necessarily a bad thing if doctors are paid for their time and expertise working outwith the NHS. For example, working for NICE, or giving expert views to court. However, when a doctor has a financial “conflict of interest”, this can affect the treatment decisions they make, or recommend. These conflicts cannot be entirely avoided, and in many cases they are entirely reasonable. However, it is important that information is available on which companies have paid a doctor, so that colleagues and patients can decide for themselves what they think. For example, there is longstanding evidence that exposure to industry promotional activity can lead to doctors recommending worse treatments for patients.

I have also discussed with Dr Christmas the view that proportionality of understanding should come in words as well as numbers and  that the quantitative and qualitative require ‘parity of esteem’.

In summary, I thought the Cross party meeting on Mental Health, Ageing and Older People was an excellent opportunity for a range of voices to share their thoughts and experiences. Such involvement is to be commended and I hope that both my profession and policy makers of all sorts may agree.

Dr Peter J. Gordon

(writing in my own time)

GMC registration: 3468861

Member of the Royal College of Psychiatrists: number 12351

I have worked in NHS Scotland for over 25 years and I am employed 
with NHS Lothian as a Consultant in Psychiatry for Older Adults. 
As well as being a doctor and scientist, I am a philosopher, 
ethicist, and artist.

 

‘May it be granted the older you are’

Prepared to share with the Cross Party Group on Older People, Age and Ageing ahead of the meeting on the 26th April 2017

In this summary I will present original articles, reports and writing. I wish to keep my words spare.

William H. Thomas said this in 2004 in his book “What are Old People For?”:

On the 1724 ruin of Mavisbank (considered as Scotland’s finest ruined building) and carved on the sculpture “The Ageing Stone” by Dr Peter J. Gordon:

May you grow old either never or late,
and that you experience earthly changes late.
May what the numerous ages erode be restored intact,
may it be granted that the older you are,
the more beautiful you may shine.

[Dr Peter J Gordon was formerly a Trustee of Mavisbank House, Loanhead, Edinburgh.]

Ballatt and Campling in their acclaimed book (2011) “Intelligent Kindness” offered this concern about current approaches to healthcare:

I have argued in a number of publications that prevailing approaches in medicine, and particularly a primary focus on biomedicine may risk this outcome for our older generation:

The Scottish Government and Alzheimer Scotland had this recent four-page spread in a National newspaper:

The Scottish Government has indeed made progress with dementia care but we should be wary of repeated statements made by them that this is “world leading”.

Barak Obama, when President of the United States, said:

Scotland is a relatively small country and this may be one reason why biomedical determinism has prevailed without challenge. This approach to mental wellbeing has its place. I have reasoned in a number of publications, that unless philosophy is irrelevant, then biomedicine should not be the only determinant to wellbeing.

Owen Jones, in his 2014 book “The Establishment” insisted:

Personally I have very much valued the views and writings of individuals like Mr Hunter Watson and Mrs Chrys Muirhead. It disappoints me to have witnessed the ways that those in genuine positions of power have sometimes treated them. Simply because their views may not be shared.

Prescribing of psychotropic medications (of all types) has been rising year-on-year in Scotland for the last decade (ISD figures, Scottish Government). Rising in all age groups: including our children and our older generation. Reporting on this on the 5th October 2016, The Scotsman had as its front-page headline “Prescriptions for mental health drugs at 10-year high”.

Annette Leibing in an Editorial in Cult Med Psychiatry explored the origins of the widely used label/acronym “BPSD”:

One of the consequences of this has been the very wide practice of prescribing ‘off-label’ of antipsychotics in Scotland to those living with dementia. Unfortunately this wide practice has always lacked evidence for the “appropriateness” of such prescribing:

Promotion of “off-label” use of drugs is still widespread practice in the UK and, if anything, has become more embedded since the introduction of GMC required ‘Continuing Medical Education’ (CME):

The above was the concern of the Royal College of psychiatrists in 2005 (twelve years ago). However the Royal College of Psychiatrists has stated recently that this is “now a thing of the past” and that psychiatry is “puritanical” in its relationship with the pharmaceutical industry. Unfortunately real-world evidence does not support this statement (see the wide-ranging evidence gathered for ‘A Sunshine Act for Scotland’ )

Dr Catherine Calderwood, Scotland’s Chief Medical Officer is to be commended for her initiative Realistic Medicine. I have presented the reasons to the Scottish Government why a Sunshine Act for Scotland must be a necessary part of this.

[For instance: If we had a Sunshine Act perhaps the MESH scandal and so much harm might have been avoided.]

Dr Margaret McCartney, Glasgow GP, author, BMJ columnist has outlined the harmful consequences of Industry being in the driving seat. One aspect of this is ‘inverse care’. More than two years on since Dr McCartney wrote this and we find that no NHS Board area in Scotland is achieving more than 54% of the “guaranteed” Post-Diagnostic Support:

More than two years ago this “Change Paper” was published in the British Medical Journal. Professor Burns is the National Clinical Director for Dementia in NHS England and Wales:

In response, I submitted this published rapid-response to the British Medical Journal:

I welcome this “change page”. [1]

The authors describe the routine prescription, off-label, of 
antipsychotics to our most vulnerable elderly. At a recent 
international conference one presentation referred to the estimate 
that “2/3rds of current UK prescriptions for antipsychotics in 
people with dementia are inappropriate”.[2] These reports remind us 
that those living with dementia are often considered to lack 
“capacity” and their voice is easily lost.

My previous correspondence to the BMJ has demonstrated my view that 
our profession should not be “educated” by commerce or industry. 
[3]

In 1999, as a doctor in training, I was handed a document by my 
trainer. This I was told was “the way forward”. The document had an 
acronym: “BPSD”. I had not heard of “BPSD”. I learned that this 
acronym stood for “Behavioural and Psychological Symptoms 
in Dementia”.I accepted it with little thought. The comprehensive 
BPSD document was produced by Pharma: though at the time, and for 
almost a decade thereafter, I was not aware of this fact.

I am aware that a number of NHS guidelines are in existence for the 
treatment of “BPSD”. [4] Haloperidol, in lowest possible dose, is 
generally the drug recommended. My concerns over prescribing of 
antipsychotic drugs like Haloperidol in a frail elderly population, 
led me to raise a petition for a “Sunshine Act” with the Scottish 
Government. [5]

It has been my experience that marketing activity by the 
pharmaceutical industry, and also “education” by key opinion 
leaders paid for by the pharmaceutical industry, have in the past 
encouraged the off-label use of antipsychotic drugs. Until we 
acknowledge this mechanism, we risk losing the opportunity to 
minimise the harm of such an approach.

References 1-5

Four months later this research was published:

It should be noted that antipsychotics also can cause side-effects (morbidity) as well as increasing risk of mortality. Such side effects include: parkinsonism, sedation, mental dulling, excess salivation, weight gain, cardiac disturbances and hormonal dysregulation. This is why, as an NHS doctor for older adults, I use antipsychotics as sparingly as I can and generally when all other options have reasonably been tried. If I do prescribe antipsychotics I try to do so for as short a period as possible.

The SIGN 86National Clinical Guideline” on “Management of patients with Dementia” was published in 2006. A review of national guidelines on dementia, published in 2013, established that this was found to be almost the worst national guideline for dementia in the world (certainly in terms of consideration of ethics)

I have written about my concerns that financially vested interests may have played a significant part in the development of SIGN Guideline 86 on Dementia:

Last year Sign 86 Guideline was withdrawn. There has been no replacement – despite the promise made within SIGN 86 – to have it reconsidered by 2011.

The following slides consider failures of governance for National Guidelines such as SIGN:

One of my interests is in ethics. I share the ethicists’ view that we all may suffer if our shared determination scientific objectivity is compromised for vested reasons. It was this consideration that led me (in 2013) to petition the Scottish Parliament to consider introducing a Sunshine Act for Scotland:

My petition was closed in February 2016 after wide gathering of evidence and a Public Consultation.

The public consultation revealed that the Scottish public support the petition and that in majority they would like to see all payments made to doctors, healthcare workers and academics to be publically declared on an open, central register.

More than a year on since this consultation was concluded and the public has had no meaningful update from the Scottish Government.

In the Observer newspaper of 1st October 2016 an Editorial our older generation ended:

I also want to end by celebrating the real value of our older generations.

This was a rapid response to the British Medical Journal by myself that was published 2nd September 2015

The contributions of those “retired” often prove invaluable:

Yesterday I was at a consultation event held by Healthcare 
Improvement Scotland which sought wider views on a proposed 
national approach to “Scrutiny” of health and social care in 
Scotland (1). At the meeting I met a number of individuals who had 
been designated “retired” on their name badge. I was not surprised 
to find that during the course of the consultation event, the 
contributions of those “retired” proved to be invaluable.


Returning home on the train I thought about this a little more. 
Names like J K Anand, L Sam Lewis and Susanne Stevens, all regular 
submitters to the BMJ rapid responses came into my mind. All 
describe themselves as “retired” and one happily calls himself 
“an old man”. The contributions by retired folk have always struck 
me as having a different quality to those by people who are still 
employees of today’s NHS. In “retirement” there may be a greater 
freedom to ask questions of prevailing approaches. Our older 
generation also has great experience which should be considered 
as “evidence” in itself.


Yet in my job as a doctor for older adults, I see the world around 
me as seeming to do its best to reduce our elders. The language 
used in discussing our elders commonly denotes some sort of loss. 
For example the “guru” of Healthcare Improvement Don Berwick talks 
about the “Silver Tsunami”. Other healthcare leaders talk of 
“epidemics” and “challenges”, implying that our elders are a burden 
to younger generations. To address these “challenges” the 
healthcare improvers, it seems to me, are devising shortcuts. 
Today these are often termed “tools” and may be part of “toolkits”. 
I have even heard healthcare improvers discussing the need to 
“invent” a “tool” for patient centredness. I think our elders, 
or those “retired”, might consider this to be particularly 
ridiculous.


So I would like to say three cheers for the “retired” folk. 
To discourse they bring wisdom, to the prevailing methodologies 
they are more willing to ask critical questions, and when it comes 
to cutting through to what matters, being true to oneself, 
our elders are superior to many, if not most, policy makers.

References 1 and 2


 

Mr Hunter Watson also submitted a paper ahead of the Cross Party Meeting on Mental Health and Older People, Age and Ageing. It is included below:

In the report entitled “Remember, I’m still me” psychoactive medication is described as “medicines used to treat behavioural symptoms, like agitation, verbal and physical aggression, wandering and not sleeping”. From this description it seems clear that psychoactive medication is regarded by some as medication which can be used as chemical restraint rather than for the purpose for which it was developed.

That report, which was published in April 2009, was based upon what was found when the Care Commission and the Mental Welfare Commission made joint visits to a sample of 30 care homes in Scotland. The authors observed that “While we saw some examples of good practice, our findings reveal that overall, care in Scotland’s care homes needs to improve significantly in order to meet the needs of people with dementia who live in them”.

The report also noted that “Although most staff were aware of different types of therapies recommended for caring for people with dementia, they told us they were not using them or encouraging them to be used as they did not feel their knowledge was sufficient and they did not have enough time.”

In May 2014 there was published a report entitled “Dignity and respect: dementia continuing care visits”. This report was based upon what the Mental Welfare Commission found when it visited 52 NHS units providing longer-term care for people with dementia. Among its findings were the following:

84% of people were on at least one psychotropic medication 
(i.e. psychoactive medication) with 30% on three or more, 
in many cases without evidence of regular reviews

175 people (52%) were taking anxiolytic medication, mainly 
Diazepam or Lorazepam, with 65 of the 175 (37%) receiving this 
on a regular basis. This level of use is disturbing and is much 
higher than the level of use we found in Remember, I'm still me 
where only 19% of people with dementia in care homes were 
prescribed anxiolytic medication. The British National Formularly 
(BNF) states "Anxiolytic medication should be limited to the 
lowest possible dose for the shortest possible time".

166 people (45%) were taking antipsychotic medication. While this 
may be helpful in relieving symptoms such as hallucinations, 
delusions, agitation or aggression, there are known risks for 
people with dementia. All antipsychotic medications increase 
the risk of stroke and death, many can impair mobility and 
increase the risk of falls.


Although people with dementia in NHS care may present with more 
challenging and complex problems than people with dementia in other 
care settings, staff skills and knowledge and staff numbers should 
be better. We were concerned at the high usage of antipsychotic 
medication often in combination with anxiolytics or sedative 
antidepressants.

In October 2016 there was issued a National Statistics Publication for Scotland entitled “Medicines used in Mental Health”. It provided statistics for the years 2005/06 to 2015/16. Among the facts contained therein are the following:

All NHS Boards show increased prescribing of antipsychotic drugs 
since 2009/10.

The total number of prescription items dispensed for psychoses and 
related disorders increased between 2014/15 and 2015/16 ...  
This follows a gradual increase over the last ten years. 

The majority of the drugs used in the treatment of psychoses and 
related disorders are antipsychotic drugs.

In June 2010 there was published a document entitled Scotland’s National Dementia Strategy”. This document made clear that the Scottish Government was committed to “ensuring that people receiving care in all settings get access to treatment and support that is appropriate with a particular focus on reducing the inappropriate use of psychoactive medication …”

In May 2013 there was published a document entitled “Scotland’s National Dementia Strategy: 2013 – 16”. In this document it was stated that “The first Dementia Strategy identified that a key driver to ensure care and treatment is always safe, effective and appropriate is working with partners to reduce the inappropriate prescribing of psychoactive medication for people with dementia”. In order to try to achieve this goal an expert working group was asked “To agree and recommend a national commitment on the prescribing of psychoactive medications (excluding cognitive enhancers), as part of ensuring that such  medication is used only where there must be a likelihood of benefit to the person with dementia and where there is no appropriate alternative”.

In a 1998 edition of the International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry (No 13) there appeared an article entitled “Medication Use in Nursing Homes for Elderly People”. In the summary it was stated “Residents of nursing and residential homes are often prescribed medication for physical and mental ill-health with resultant polypharmacy and the possibility of iatrogenic disorders. (Disorders caused by medication.) Sometimes drugs are prescribed inappropriately and a number of studies have highlighted the overuse of psychotropic drugs. Legislation in the USA has been effective in controlling their use in that neuroleptic prescriptions (i.e. antipsychotic prescriptions) for the treatment of behavioural disturbances have been significantly reduced and non-pharmacological  strategies aimed at ameliorating behavioural disturbances have been proposed.”

In the editorial of the BMJ of 1 April 2006 it was stated, with reference to an article entitled “Managing challenging behaviour in dementia”, that “… the behaviour of staff … may play a central role in the manifestation of challenging behaviours in patients … a new culture of dementia care should focus on meeting individual patient’s needs rather than on restraint.”

On 3 June 2011 I was sent from the USA a copy of an article entitled “The wrong drugs in nursing homes. Too many antipsychotics” The article was written by Daniel Levinson, the inspector general in the Department of Health and Human Services. Within that article it is stated that “Researchers found that 88 percent of the time, these drugs (antipsychotics) were prescribed for elderly people with dementia. This is precisely the population that faces an increased risk of death when using this class of drugs, according to the FDA.The report didn’t investigate why patients with dementia are prescribed antipsychotic drugs so often. But a series of lawsuits and settlements that my office helped to bring about suggests that many pharmaceutical companies have improperly promoted these drugs to doctors and nursing homes for many years.”

Observations and recommendations:

The production of dementia strategies has been ineffective in 
reducing the prescribing of life-threatening antipsychotic drugs 
to people with dementia in care homes and hospitals. The Scottish 
Government should, therefore, agree that, as recommended by the 
Mental Welfare Commission, there be a wide review of mental health 
and incapacity legislation when the place of learning disability 
and autism in current mental health legislation is reviewed. 
When carrying out that review full account should be taken of 
the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

Guidelines should be produced for the use of antipsychotics and 
otherpsychoactive drugs for people with dementia. 

These guidelines should take full account of the recommendations in 
the British National Formularly. 

Note should be taken of the fact that the guidelines in SIGN 86 
have now been withdrawn since they became out of date.

New National Care Standards for Care Homes for Older People 
should be produced. These new standards should not suggest 
that medication could be used as restraint in response to 
"restless or agitated behaviour" as do the existing care standards. 
This suggestion positively encourages care home staff to request 
that a doctor prescribes an antipsychotic for a resident whose 
behaviour is perceived as challenging. Unfortunately some doctors 
are too ready to accede to such a request and do not properly 
consider whether the known risks outweigh the potential benefits 
nor attempt to obtain the informed consent of the patient. 
There seems to be an incorrect assumption by some that care home 
residents, especially those with dementia, would be incapable of 
passing the recognised test of capacity to make a treatment decision.

New regulations should specify that doctors must take due account 
of prescribing guidelines when they prescribe antipsychotics to 
care home residents and also that they must give a written 
explanation of any decision to do this. The care inspectorate 
should confirm that due account has been taken of prescribing 
guidelines and also that acceptable written explanations have been 
provided. The regulations should specify sanctions which could be 
taken against care homes in which there has been evidence of an
excessive and inappropriate use of antipsychotics or other 
psychoactive drugs

It should be recognised that in Scotland, as in the USA, 
pharmaceutical companies could have been improperly making payments 
when marketing their psychoactive drugs as suitable for use in the 
treatment of care home residents and others. 

The Scottish Government, therefore, should make it mandatory for 
doctors, healthcare workers and academics to disclose publicly all 
payments from the pharmaceutical industry. 

Peter Gordon, a consultant in old age psychiatry, submitted 
petition PE1493 to the Petitions Committee in the hope that it 
would lead to the Scottish Government agreeing to enact the 
necessary legislation which he suggested could be named the 
Sunshine Act. However, in an email dated 14 April 2017 sent to 
the Minister for Mental Health and others he stated 
"A year on and there has been no meaningful public update 
from the Scottish Government on PE1493 and a Sunshine Act".

The Scottish Government should give serious consideration to 
Peter Gordon's proposal.

Caring for elderly people with dementia is a demanding task but the 
care homes which have the responsibility for their care are 
commonly under-staffed and under-funded. Such homes are unable to 
pay staff sufficient to ensure that they do not leave for better 
paid and less demanding work elsewhere, such as in a supermarket. 
The consequence is that in some care homes there is a high turnover 
and hence a lack of properly trained staff. In these circumstances 
it is not surprising that care homes resort to the use of 
psychoactive medication when residents present problems.

It should be recognised that in order to ensure that people with 
dementia are properly cared for more resources must be devoted to 
social care and that, if necessary, taxes should be raised to 
achieve this.

A letter that the Scottish Parliament felt unable to publish

With careful thought, and backed with full supporting evidence,  I sent the following letter of the 2nd February 2016 to support my petition for a Sunshine Act for Scotland.

The Senior Clerk of the Parliamentary Committee was of the view that this letter did not comply with the Scottish Parliament’s policy on the treatment of written evidence. I was therefore asked to redact significant sections of the letter.

After considerable communications to and fro, I replied as per this e-mail of the 3rd March 2016:

I fully respect the right of the Scottish Parliament to determine 
what it publishes.

I feel very strongly that my letter without the highlighted text 
merely reiterates what I have already said, and fails to provide 
the evidence that I have repeatedly been asked for.

So my position is that I do not wish to amend my letter of the 
1st February on PE1493.

My petition has since been closed. I therefore have decided to publish my letter to the Scottish Parliament in full along with supporting evidence. I have had professional advice that what is contained in this letter is not defamatory as it is based on veritas and has full supporting evidence:

Dear Mr McMahon
Petition PE01493: A Sunshine Act for Scotland

I realise that the Committee must receive a great amount of correspondence however I hope that the committee might agree that what follows is extremely important when considering PE1493.

Since I last wrote to the committee I attended, for accredited continuing medical education, the Royal College of Psychiatrists in Scotland Winter Meeting held on the 29th January 2016. It is this that has compelled me to write this update as it demonstrates beyond doubt that lack of transparency around financial conflicts of interest remains a serious issue. An issue with implications for both patient safety and healthcare budgets. It also demonstrates that Government action is the only way to address this.

The full powerpoint presentations of this Accredited meeting for 
Continuing Professional Development can be accessed here - but only
for members of the Royal College of Psychiatrists. 

I am a member of the Royal College of Psychiatrists and I am of the 
view, as a scientist, that these lectures should be available to all 
and not just to members.

One speaker highlighted the increase in prescribing costs in her health board area which was due to the high prescribing rate of a new antipsychotic injection, palperidone depot (XEPLION®). The next speaker demonstrated both the inferior effectiveness of this drug when compared to existing (far cheaper) depot medications and the perception amongst Scottish psychiatrists that it was more effective. Below you will see the flyer sent to mental health professionals in Scotland when this drug was launched:

002 Financial Conflicts of Interest, Scottish Psychiatry

I have highlighted one of the paid speakers, Dr Mark Taylor, because he also spoke at this week’s meeting where he reminded us that he was Chair of SIGN Guideline 131: The Management of Schizophrenia, which was published in March 2013.

At this week’s meeting Dr Taylor presented his declarations as follows: “Fees/hospitality: Lundbeck; Janssen, Otsuka; Roche; Sunovion”.

Dr Taylor commented on these declarations with the statement that “you are either abstinent or promiscuous when it comes to industry. Well you can see which side I am on”. Audience laughter followed.

The general question that arises is whether an influential professional such as a Chair of National Guidelines might earn more from the pharmaceutical industry than in his or her role as a healthcare professional? At present it is impossible for anyone to establish the scale of competing financial interests. To remind the committee the following avenues are not illuminating:

1. Royal College of Psychiatrists. This week’s meeting did not appear on the college database. In any case this database is neither searchable nor does it include specific details of payments and dates

2. NHS Boards. The committee has already established that, across Scotland, HDL62 is not being followed.

3. SIGN guidelines. The committee is aware of significant governance failings particularly in comparison with NICE which includes details of financial sums paid and associated dates.

4. Discussions with Senior Managers in NHS Scotland relating to the General Medical Council’s expected level of transparency has brought forth written responses describing my interest as “highly unusual” and “offensive and unprofessional”

5. The forthcoming ABPI register allows any professional to opt out of inclusion.

It is also worth repeating that the information provided to the public consultation on this petition failed to highlight most of the issues identified in points 1 to 5 above.

In terms of cost both to the public purse and the individual patient the Government’s stated wish for a “robust, transparent and proportionate” response would be fulfilled if a single, searchable, open register of financial conflicts of interest that has a statutory basis were to be introduced

Re-Awoken

This is the transcript of a short film I made in late May 2011 called ‘AWOKEN’:

Awoken from omphalos on Vimeo.

It forms the summarised reply by me to Wake-up call for British Psychiatry written by 38 Professors in British Psychiatry and published in 2008:

 AWOKEN

“In this short film, impossibly short for such a subject as mental suffering, I am going to offer you my own awakenings; awakenings that in fact go back many years before the July 2008 alarm call, claxon loud, made by 38 Professors in British Psychiatry.

In my last film, which covered the wide-ranging response to that wake-up call, I tried to present ontological reasoning in the background. However this was a mistake, as layering of personal narrative upon census view, at the same time as revealing wider academic endeavour was simply overwhelming.

At outset let me say that I thought the Wake-up call was a crudely written and narrowly based consideration. The wake-up academics certainly made some points that I agreed with, but others sat uncomfortably alongside patient experience, my journey of knowledge and the oath that I took: (above all) first do no harm. The wake-up call had for me the bedside manner of its much discussed sister paper, What is the Core expertise of the psychiatrist.’

In giving you my views, I want you to know that I feel most uncomfortable. It is a scary task to challenge the collected wisdom of the 38 academics. As for the thoughts I have to make, it was only last week that Alec Salmond, Scotland’s First Minister reminded the reconvening parliament that nobody ‘has monopoly on wisdom.’  I give to you what follows only in that light.

In the next two minutes I shall offer ten summary thoughts regarding the 2008 wake-up to mental suffering and the variety of responses it generated:

ONE: Narrowness of vision. This can be said with certainty, as Professor Craddock takes every opportunity to discount philosophical breadth.

TWO: The Polymathematical. I am sorry, but in my strict terms, Femi Oyebode apart, the wake-up academics are not polymaths. Sadly, within psychiatry there are very few examples.

THREE: The ‘stand-alone’ brain in understanding. Here I ask you only to consider the proportionality of research effort. It seems to me that far too often this marginalises the reality of our social and cultural world.

FOUR: Consciousness. Every time I mention this, my colleagues groan. This perhaps tells us why it is universally ignored by the science of understanding. Research may be difficult, but human consciousness is surely not that of a rat.

FIVE: The objective-subjective divide. Here I appreciate the discomfort of Craddock. Just as he feels ‘caricatured’ as biological-reductionist, I feel reduced as offering nothing more than ‘subjective.’ In the 21st century is it not time to debate the usefulness of this terminology, as so suggested many years ago by Dr Allan Beveridge.

SIX: Disorder. Psychiatrists have no monopoly over the definition of ‘disorder.’ Here we all struggle. However imperfect we need classification but we must not attack one another if we disagree over dimensions. Rather we should debate.

SEVEN: History. Professor Craddock has repeated over and over that he is not interested in the past, and his view, it appears to me, is the prevailing one in our profession wide. The College has embraced the modern, multi-media techniques with its CME modules and podcasts, however look at the content. There is no history, except that of ancient lunacy laws. Where are the considerations of the changing classifications of mental illness, the social and cultural context of mental illness, the language of science and indeed any ideological considerations beyond the medical model. Holism, reductionism, ethics, philosophy, narrative medicine. They just are not there.

EIGHT: The overselling of neuro-scientific explanations. By this I repeat I am atheist, deplore mysticism, and share Professor Craddock’s wish for pragmatism. Science must not over-reach conclusion, for then it becomes scientism and we end up misleading ourselves. If you want examples send a postcard and I will send you a directory.

NINE: Humanities have capitulated to biology. Here I talk of the devolvement of our cultural and sociological worlds. These worlds are as real as the physical energies that invisibly govern so much of today’s technology and communication.

TEN: Reductionism. I deliberately conclude with this. Wholesale attack on reductionism is bad medicine. The remedy does not lie in abandoning reductionism where it is appropriate, but like Evidence-based medicine, we must recognise where it is necessary, but not sufficient. Let us accept that numbers (that which is quantifiable) and words (the qualitative) should be understood as equal forms of measurement. My life stands by this.