As winter continues, so does the usual soul searching about the state of the UK’s National Health Service (NHS). Images of ambulances backing up outside emergency departments and patients lying on trolleys in corridors haunt politicians and the public alike.
Demand on the NHS, which is always high, increases over the coldest of seasons, when threats to health are greatest. Generally, more than 20,000 extra deaths occur from December to March than in any other four-month period in England and Wales. That number varies considerably, however – from 17,460 in 2013-4 to 43,850 in 2014-5 (which was not even a particularly cold winter). And there has been no evidence of a decreasing trend since the early 1990s, despite the national flu immunisation programme.
The percentage increase in deaths seen each winter in England and Wales … Read more
“How important are informal supporters of women experiencing domestic violence?”: “Very” – a simple answer to a complicated question. The bottom line, in terms of statistics, is that if survivors disclose their situation to anyone, it will most likely be to informal supporters (friends, relatives, neighbours and colleagues) rather than professionals.1 And this is true across the world, with research indicating that sometimes a disclosure to an informal supporter happens alongside a disclosure to a professional, but frequently this is not the case.2-5 In addition, it is not unusual for informal supporters to witness abusive behaviours, but commonly they are uncertain about what exactly it is that they are seeing, in particular, what it means, and what their role in the situation should be.6 ,7
Assisted dying can be a divisive and polarising subject. But there is one aspect on which most people probably agree – the need to improve the conversations people have about death.
At the moment, there is uncertainty in the UK regarding what people – especially health professionals – can and cannot say when the topic of assisted dying comes up. Conversation can become especially stilted when it turns to patients obtaining the medical documentation required for an assisted death abroad.
The situation requires clarification. Currently, if a doctor in the UK writes a specific report to help with an assisted death abroad (three organisations in Switzerland accept UK citizens), the General Medical Council (GMC) may view this as a “fitness to practice” issue.
However, if a doctor provides copies of medical records, even with the … Read more
In a systematic review published this month, we identified 153 communication skills training interventions for generalists in end of life care. In randomised controlled trials, training improved showing empathy and discussing emotions in simulated interactions (i.e. with actor patients) but evidence of effect on clinician behaviours during real patient interactions, and on patient-reported outcomes, was inconclusive.
The global increase in the proportion of older people and length of life means providing end of life care is now increasingly the responsibility of generalist as well as specialist palliative care providers. But many clinicians find communicating about end of life issues challenging: how do you best discuss imminent mortality, limited treatment options, what to expect when you’re dying, or a patient’s preferences for end of life care?
When this communication is done poorly, or not done at all, … Read more
I know this from working in both general practice and as a hospital doctor in A&E.
During the early stages of an illness it can be difficult for even the most experienced healthcare professionals to determine whether a patient has a minor self-limiting illness or is harbouring a more serious condition. In addition, growing problems such as antibiotic resistance and multimorbidity mean that sometimes even when a doctor makes a correct diagnosis, patients do not always get better with the first round of treatment and may require further medical help.
We cannot, and it is not clinically appropriate, to admit everyone to hospital to observe them until they feel 100% better.
That is why it is important that healthcare professionals provide patients with safety-netting advice. Safety-netting … Read more
I was recently invited to address the annual general meeting of PROSPECT, a local prostate cancer support group. The brief I was given was to discuss the GP’s role in diagnosing prostate cancer and the latest research in this area; a daunting task to tackle in a room full of men with prostate cancer at various stages on their cancer journey.
I spoke of the GP’s role across the continuum of cancer, from prevention and early diagnosis through to survivorship support and palliative care. I tried to discuss some of the latest studies in the field, such as the PROMIS study and the CAP trial, in a digestible form for these men. I also mused with them about the potential role new genetic technologies will have in the future in guiding GPs in determining cancer risk … Read more
I have a problem with gambling. There’s not enough of it.
That was the admission from billionaire Steve Wynn, a major figure in the casino industry, speaking at a recent gambling research conference in (where else?) Las Vegas. And sure, it made for a good quote. But it’s also a rather glib dismissal of a serious issue that affects many thousands of people across the world.
The UK certainly has a problem with gambling. At least it has since 2007, when laws were changed to allow for huge growth in gambling opportunities and exposure. It has been hard to ignore the subsequent explosion in industry advertising, which increased by around 500% between 2007 and 2013. By contrast, you may have missed the increased numbers of high intensity electronic gambling … Read more
Domestic violence is a violation of human rights with damaging social, economic and health consequences. It is any incident of controlling, coercive, threatening behaviour, violence or abuse. That abuse can be psychological, emotional, physical, sexual and financial.
The “domestic” element refers to abuse between people aged 16 or over who are, or have been, intimate partners or family members, regardless of gender or sexuality. Men, women or transgender people in straight, gay or lesbian relationships can perpetrate or experience it. So does this mean domestic violence is gender neutral? Is gender irrelevant to prevention efforts and to responding to survivors’ needs? We do not think so.
People are increasingly living with long-term health conditions. Management of these conditions is expensive, and their increased prevalence challenges health system sustainability and current service models. Can alternative models of care meet the needs of patients with long-term conditions at an acceptable cost?
One growing area of healthcare that could serve as a replacement or adjunct to traditional care models is telehealth, which is the remote provision of healthcare by a variety of communication tools. Telehealth advocates argue that the wider use of technology and a greater reliance on self-management in supporting patients with long-term conditions may produce the same or better health outcomes, but at a lower cost, than traditional care modalities. Is this optimism justified, and might telehealth be good value for the NHS?
The 3D study, led by researchers from the Centre for Academic Primary Care (CAPC), is examining a new approach for GP practices to manage patients with multiple long-term health problems.
Meeting a need
Existing treatment is based on guidelines for each separate condition meaning that patients often attend multiple appointments for each disease which can be repetitive, inconvenient and inefficient. They see different nurses and doctors who may give conflicting advice. These patients frequently get depressed and they also sometimes complain that no-one treats them as a ‘whole person’ or takes their views into account.
The 3D approach was developed by patients and GPs together to address these issues. Based around patient-centred care, the approach focuses on three ‘D’s: Depression, Drugs and the patient’s Dimensions of health, such as their quality of life, priorities and … Read more