In General, Innovation on December 8, 2013 at 10:35 pm
Last week I attended the latest King’s Fund Medical Leadership Network/Development event. These bring together a number of clinicians and managers of varying degrees of experience. There is a focus on outcome, rather than just being talking shops, and there is a clear aim to increase the number of those attending who are early in their careers.
One of the talks was from Prof. Rory Shaw, the Medical Director of Health Care UK. This organisation aims to bring NHS healthcare expertise to the world and establish partnerships that will be beneficial for the UK economy. Prof Shaw was quite open about the questions this raises and some of the challenges to be faced. My interest peaked however in respect of NHS expertise in digital healthcare. It is an interesting paradox that many worldwide healthcare services don’t have access to, or any clear plan to develop, some of the initiatives and expertise which exist here. The concept of a universal number, for example, is something that is taken for granted in the UK but is not present at all in many other healthcare systems. However from my point of view, a young (but potentially naive and impatient) junior doctor, there is nothing particularly brilliant about our digital systems. Very recently I was involved in a case where the failure to have access to the healthcare information of a patient presenting to a paediatric emergency department may well have resulted in harm to the patient. This was not an individuals fault, it was the fault of the absence of an electronic system that can share information about patients throughout the country.
I was pretty vitriolic about this at the conference, and despite furtive glances and frowns from some members of the audience, will remain so about this. It is not an excuse to say we tried that and it didn’t work. The simple fact remains that most members of the public remain extremely surprised that we are unable to access electronic records in one vicinity but not another. Even worse it remains a cause for concern patients can frequent numerous different health care providers without any of them knowing anything about these visits. This isn’t about being a ‘big brother’; it’s about managing risk for vulnerable patients and ensuring patient safety in a system which harm if often to easy to come by.
What then are we to make of the failure of the National Programme for IT in the NHS? One argument is that we have moved on, the initiative for local solutions and then joined up working more pragmatic and ultimately more achievable. There are still large costs involved though as the governments recent announcement of a £1Billion fund for Emergency Departments emphasises. Appreciating it’s sometimes easier to judge rather than action, I have been working hard locally towards an electronic integrated illness identification system for children (POPS) which is now used in other centres and could ultimately be used to compare acuity rates between emergency centres. This solution had to bypass NHS IT and is not the safeguarding safety net that is desperately needed.
It is vital that we remember where we have been in the past and what we haven’t achieved. There are many people and organisations passionate about improving the digital infrastructure of the NHS, and Tim Kelsey is clearly keen on making progress. It is likely solutions will eventually been found but we must honest about our past failures. It would be equally disastrous, probably more so, should further Berwick and Francis reports be needed, but unfortunately history demonstrates we often fail to learn.
Extolling our strengths is fine, acknowledging our failings much the braver thing to do.
In Medical Education on September 1, 2013 at 7:43 am
The issue of whether it is possible to adequately train doctors in a 48 hour average week has long been the subject of discussion (some background here). A recent piece in the Guardian raised a number of eyebrows from those on either sides of the argument. The article, written by a healthcare software provider, was essentially saying longer individual shifts would be better for all involved. This point didn’t really resonate with those doing the shifts.
However whenever the EWTD (or technically EWTR) gets mentioned the debate re-opens.
As a member of the Temple report on working hours I was given the opportunity to hear from those of all those involved in training and being trained. As a result I was asked by the BMA (point of note I have never been a member of the Junior Doctors Committee) to write a short article on my personal perspectives. I was surprised to find, despite having written this in early 2010, I still stand by what I said then:
Reflections on the European Working Time Regulations
“In August 2002 I returned to the UK having spent a year in Perth (Western Australia) after my PRHO year (Foundation year one). I had spent it at a children’s hospital and had thoroughly enjoyed my clinical experiences there ; the 80 hour fortnights also helping take advantage of the sun, sea and surf. I retuned to a tertiary neonatal unit in the East Midlands with a degree of disappointment, worsened by the fact I knew I had to start getting my paediatric membership. The fact that the job was “Band 3” didn’t really mean much to me at the time except I knew it would help clear my substantial travelling debts. In practice “Band 3” meant a 4 and a half week run of shifts with only four days off. I look back at that period now with mixed feelings. Without a doubt I went from a neonatal novice to being able to make middle grade decisions within six months. The confidence felt by the end of the job certainly outweighted the utter panic of a first night shift spent peering through Perspex glass wondering how I would get a cannula into the minute bag of skin and bones in front of me. To say I enjoyed the experience would be looking back with rose tinted spectacles. During the runs of long days and evenings you resented every little bleep or request for fluids. The maternity theatre bleep was a clever device never going off when you were being grilled on a ward round but waiting until your hurried lunch break. They would be exhausting shifts whether you did them for 10, 40 or 60 hours a week. However having to do them for 50+ meant you were never truly on top of your game. Fortunately the camaraderie of the team of SHOs (specialist trainees) provided an outlet for times when you became utterly frustrated. I count myself lucky though I have experienced both sides of the EWTR coin and am convinced on which side I prefer it fall.
It is clear one size does not fit all but in paediatrics because of the high demands of out of hours working a suitably staffed rota does provide sufficient learning opportunities within the 48 hour framework. It is unfortunate however that many paediatric rotas are not suitably staffed! My experiences with EWTR have been favourable as I have always been rostered to allow exposure to elements in my training that are not just simply deciding whether a feverish child is ill or not. Others have not been so lucky and Out patient clinics, case conferences or governance meetings which all count as training are easily sacrificed if there is no-one available to clerk the next patient on the assessment unit. Without these opportunities the disadvantages of longer shifts, increased fatigue and less ability to unwind are irrelevant. As a trainee I want to be given the opportunity to train and want the system to flexible enough to allow me to take these opportunities. Ultimately though when frustrated that the systems fails I remember my neonatal job and am glad I don’t have to do it again. However as time progresses my memories will fade and the need to be effectively trained will remain. For paediatrics it is not the 48 hours that is the problem it is the delivery of training within it.”
I have always been clear that training is not one size fits all with the needs of the craft specialties different from the acute ones, and different again from community based services. I wonder as education and training changes over the next decade whether this problem will still persist, and whether I will still feel like this….