Being told you are in the “mortality relegation zone”

This post is based on an Editorial published in the BMJ on 27 September 2017: Identifying frailty in primary care.

The full article can be read here.

“Just a word”

In an official Medical Society Blog the following words were recently used in response to thoughts that I had submitted on a medical subject.  These singular words were put in inverted commas by a most senior healthcare professional who does not know me.

The Medical Society involved has since removed the post:

I share the view of Barrack Obama that we should all try and engage in debate with those who may have different views.

I would suggest that such “one word” approach [with words used to stain] may not encourage helpful debate.

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”.


Back in April 2016 Bergman and Karunananthan, McMaster University were of this view:

“Thus far, research on frailty has been heavily based on establishing associations between various definitions of frailty and poor health outcomes. A limited number of studies on the perspectives of older persons offer a very different characterization of frailty and the potential impact of labelling.

While several expert meetings over the past decade have called for a unified operational definition of frailty, varied definitions continue to abound, suggesting that researchers are still not ready to close the debate on what defines frailty. The integration of findings from the diverse perspectives, including those of the older persons themselves, is essential when considering the potential for a meaningful clinical tool.

Furthermore, studies examining the contribution of frailty in improving prediction of adverse health outcomes are needed in order to assess the potential utility of frailty as a prognostic tool. Despite the enthusiasm of clinicians and researchers to utilize frailty as a prognostic instrument, frailty will only be relevant if it can be empirically demonstrated either that frailty is reversible, or that its adverse outcomes are amenable to intervention.”


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.

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.

NHS Scotland – it should not take courage to care

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

The Scottish Government began this announcement stating that:

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

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

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

The Scottish Government confirm the enhancements that have been made:

Some personal thoughts:

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

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

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

Lifeboat NHS from omphalos on Vimeo.

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

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

In summary:

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

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

Courage to care from omphalos on Vimeo.

Would you like to join me?

 

INVITATION:

This is an invitation to join me on a peaceful protest to be held on Monday 21st August 2017 at the Martyrs Monument, Calton Hill Burial Ground, Edinburgh.

WHAT THE PROTEST IS ABOUT:

It is a protest for anybody who has had difficulty communicating with high public office in Scotland. For some this may have been with the Scottish Government – but it need not relate to any particular institution.

This protest is for anybody who has felt that those in a genuine position of power may have acted unfairly.

Professor Walter Humes, writing in Scottish Review, 21st September 2015:

“For some time I have been copied into email exchanges concerning how complaints against public bodies are dealt with. I have no personal stake in any of the specific sources of concern (which include patient care in the NHS and responses by Police Scotland, the Scottish Government and the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) to requests for formal investigations). I do, however, have a long-standing interest in issues of public accountability and am familiar with the various techniques used by bureaucratic organisations to avoid responsibility when things go wrong: these include silence, delay, evasion, buck-passing and attempts to discredit complainants.”

THE FIRST MINISTER’S “INTENTION”:

The First Minister for Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon said: “I intend that we will be an open and accessible Government” 26 November 2014

Prof Walter Humes, 21 September 2015:

“Those who hold high office in public bodies are very adept at defending their own interests. They may claim to support openness and transparency but those principles are not always translated into practice. Bureaucratic Scotland often falls short of the democratic ideals which are said to underpin civic life”

WHY GATHER AT THE MARTYRS’ MONUMENT:

This film by me, “The Friends of Liberty“, explains why the Martrys Monument has been chosen for this protest. The location is next to St Andrew’s House, the seat of the Scottish Government. The Martyrs Monument rises higher and has a wider view than St Andrew’s House. The Martyrs Monument was raised through public donations.

WHY the 21st of AUGUST ?:

Reason 1: The foundation stone of the Martyrs’ Monument was laid on this very day, 1844.

Reason 2: on the 21st August 2017 there will be a full solar eclipse (sometime just before 8pm) revealing the power of one orb over another and our shared need for light.

THE PERSONAL STORY MATTERS:

Here is my experience with Scottish Government. I have been, and continue to be, an active advocate for ethical considerations in all aspects of healthcare in NHS Scotland. I am proud of what I have done and of who I am.

So if you have your own story please come along and share it. Together we can make a difference.

Acknowledgement:
It was Mrs Chrys Muirhead who suggested the 21st August 2017 as 
date for this protest. Her enquiring mind had led her to find that 
this date was both an anniversary of the laying of the Martyrs 
Monument foundation stone and also the very day, in 2017, when 
a solar eclipse will occur.

 

 

 

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.

Improvement science and consent: a failure of NHS Governance

I am an employee of NHS Lothian and have been ‘sign posted’ to the “New Capacity and Consent intranet page: important information for all staff.”

This is a screenshot taken on Friday 2nd June 2017:

The Capacity and Consent intranet page begins by reminding all NHS Lothian staff of the ‘Obtaining Consent’ Policy (2014):

The NHS Lothian ‘Obtaining Consent’ Policy (2014) informs staff that “failure to secure consent may constitute assault under common law in Scotland”.

All NHS Lothian staff are also reminded that “acquiescence when a patient does not know what the intervention entails, or is unaware that he or she can refuse, is not consent”.

Two years ago I wrote about national improvement work undertaken by Healthcare Improvement Scotland for older people in hospital in NHS Scotland and my concern that “compliance” had replaced consent.

Given my experience that the guidance from my employers (NHS Lothian) on consent and the explicit requirements of “compliance” mandated by Healthcare Improvement Scotland seem to go in opposite directions, I wrote seeking further guidance. I have had this reply from Healthcare Improvement Scotland.

In conclusion: I would suggest that a failure of NHS Governance in Scotland has led to a confusion about the rights of older people to give consent.