Let’s play Politics!

National Confidential Inquiry into suicide and homicide in people with mental illnesses 2016:

In-patient suicides:

Suicide by mental health in-patients continues to fall, most clearly in England where the decrease has been around 60% during 2004-14. This fall began with the removal of ligature points to prevent deaths by hanging but has been seen in suicides on and off the ward and by all methods. Despite this success, there were 76 suicides by in-patients in the UK in 2014, including 62 in England.

Suicides after discharge:

The first three months after hospital discharge continue to be a period of high suicide risk. In England the number of deaths rose to 200 in 2014 after a fall in the previous year. Risk is highest in the first two weeks post-discharge: in a previous study we have shown that these deaths are associated with preceding admissions lasting less than 7 days and lack of care planning. There has been a fall in post-discharge deaths occurring before first service contact, suggesting recognition of the need for early follow-up. In all there were around 460 patient suicides in acute care settings – in-patient and post-discharge care and crisis teams – in the UK in 2014.

First of all I want to say that every suicide is a huge tragedy and must be prevented at all costs. Behind each of these numbers are precious lives and beautiful people. I don’t allow myself to forget that even when I am angry. This blog is a mere observation on how I have seen politics being played in front of my eyes in the last week. In light of the above findings, in consultation with his expert advisors and in all his wisdom, Mr Jeremy Hunt has decided to focus his attention on in-patient deaths – a group that is manned by the most highly trained professionals in a very controlled environment, a group that is on the list of ‘never-events’, a group that has already shown a decrease by 60%, a group where even a small reduction in numbers will amount to a big percentage and will make him look good.

With all good intentions, he has converted a healthy aspiration of Zero-suicide in the community to an unhealthy target for in-patients creating huge anxieties. Last week at the NSPA conference I heard Mr Hunt speak in the most self-congratulatory of tones about how wonderful it is that UK is the first country to legislate for ‘Parity of Esteem’. I am sorry Sir, that means nothing on the ground. The workforce coming in contact with the majority of suicidal people in the UK is largely untrained. They don’t even know how to talk with them, let alone ‘look-after’ them. The massive funding cuts focus on mental health which in turn results in poor training of junior doctors. When questioned directly about ‘parity of training’, he masterfully slips and slides away.

In my eyes you don’t look good Mr Hunt.

 

 

 

Bad doctor!!!

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Despite check-lists, protocols and guidelines, mistakes happen. As long as human beings carry out jobs, mistakes will happen. To err is human. Safety is an outcome of a person’s attitudes and actions within a given environment. Both, the person and the environment have a strong impact on each other and the outcomes. The bad mood of one person affects the whole team. Similarly, a stressful milieu for any reason such as lack of time and resources has a direct impact on the performance of each person in it.

In my 19 years in the NHS, the working conditions and morale amongst the staff have gradually worsened.  When things go wrong, clinicians, being visible on the frontline are expected and often willing to take responsibility. Holes in the system and staff morale are hidden. Only on a closer look are they clearly seen.

I sit in a unique position where I work for the same organisation that is at least partly, if not fully responsible for the fact that my son is not in this world any more. Yet, I know and see many doctors and nurses work way beyond their call of duty. However, our very own GMC took the case of a paediatric registrar, Dr Bawa-Garba to the High Court, supposedly in the best interest of the public. She had looked after 6 year old Jack Adcock before he tragically died of severe sepsis under her care. Her Counsel summerised:

“The events leading to [Dr Barwa-Garba’s] conviction did not take place in isolation, but rather in combination with failings of other staff, including the nurses and consultants working in the CAU that day, and in the context of multiple systemic failures which were identified in a Trust investigation.”

Yet, the high court convicted her of ‘manslaughter by gross negligence’.

A blog by concerned UK paediatric consultants stated that:

“On this day: Dr Bawa-Garba did the work or three doctors including her own duties all day and in the afternoon the work of four doctors.
On this day: Neither Dr Bawa-Garba (due to crash bleep) nor the consultant (due to rosta) were able to attend morning handover, familiarise themselves with departmental patient load and plan the day’s work.
On this day: Dr Bawa-Garba, a trainee paediatrician, who had not undergone Trust induction, was looking after six wards, spanning  4 floors, undertaking paediatric input to surgical wards 10 and 11, giving advice to midwives and taking GP calls.
On this day: Even when the computer system was back on line, the results alerting system did not flag up abnormal results.
On this day: A patient who had shown a degree of clinical and metabolic recovery due to Dr Bawa-Garba’s entirely appropriate treatment of oxygen, fluids and antibiotics was given a dangerous blood pressure lowering medication (enalapril) which may have  precipitated an arrest.”

The case has now been put to the Court of Appeal.

So, whose fault is it? No handover, no induction, no senior support, temporary nursing staff, poor IT services, shortage of doctors … whose fault is it? Obviously the doctor’s. Why this huge disparity in the way in which hospital doctors are treated as opposed to the others? It’s not ok for the sickest of patients to die in a hospital whereas fit and healthy young men and women are allowed to die in the community with not an eye-brow raised.

Parity of esteem? Bollocks!

 

It’s become a ‘thing’.

For a thousand days I wrote every day. It wasn’t a ‘thing’. That’s just what I did. I didn’t worry about who read it and why. It didn’t matter how good or bad it was. I just did it. Then I slowed down to writing roughly once a week.

Now, I think about writing. I talk about writing. I look up ‘writing’ on the internet. I consider on-line courses. I buy books on writing. I worry about writing well. I listen to podcasts of interviews with famous writers. I am on the lookout for writing tips in newspapers and magazines. I wonder what it must feel like to write properly every day. I envy those who can. What I do very little of, is write. I believe I repeat myself endlessly. I say the same things again and again. I forget things that are important. I hardly know any juicy big words. Why would anyone be interested in what I have to say? English is my second language and I can’t fully express myself in it anyway. My imagination is limited. I haven’t read enough books. I have no writing qualifications. Ms Confidence has evaporated and Mr Self Doubt has surreptitiously crept into her space in the vacant apartment of my psyche.

One ‘expert’ on you-tube suggested the way forward is to just write 3 full A4 sheets every day. She said,”… best not to think too much. Just put down on paper whatever comes to mind”. She called it a ‘brain dump’. She promised that over time it would start to make sense. It would become a story in your voice.

Maybe it’s time to go back to writing everyday. Maybe it’s time to start  my “big fat” book 🙂

PS: My favourite book on writing is ‘On Writing Well‘ by William Zinsser.

 

Treatment versus Care

In her entry to this year’s BMA News Writing Competition, a consultant psychiatrist relates the experience of her postpartum psychosis and explains that, although grateful for her treatment, something was missing from the care she received.

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The Human Factor

I am a consultant psychiatrist. Two years ago, I had a taste of my own medicine.

Three sleepless nights after the birth of my daughter, I became acutely ill. I slowly realised I couldn’t sleep — something strange was happening. Within six hours, I was experiencing a kaleidoscope of symptoms — elation, fear, heightened senses, delusions. I wanted to kill myself and my daughter.

Postpartum psychosis is a medical emergency and a consultant perinatal psychiatrist was at my house within the hour. I literally ran to her ward in my socks, my mum running behind, having forgotten her shoes too.

My first night was terrifying, but the staff were fantastic. As I rode an emotional rollercoaster, they reassured me, calmed me, gave me the sedation I desperately needed. Soon, I settled into a mild mania. Though at times it was very scary, I was fascinated. I noted with curiosity how my brain behaved. I felt great love for my daughter, and beneficence for my fellow man. I enjoyed all the activities the ward had to offer.

Five weeks later I was happily home. But what goes up, must come down. Gradually, I became unsettled, filled with self-doubt. I became convinced my baby was autistic. The anxiety became intense, and I considered suicide. My consultant coaxed me into hospital again. ‘It will only be two weeks,’ she promised. ‘I think you need to start lithium.’

You cannot breastfeed on lithium. One day I was connected with my baby, the next she fed from a bottle. My heart broke as my breasts filled to burst. It was a symbolic change, from wonderful to awful. She smelled wrong, artificial. I began a tiresome regimen of sterilising, preparing and cooling bottles, when all the while my baby yelled, to my great shame. As if in protest, she vomited spectacularly after every feed.

This time, the ward seemed an unfriendly place; swelteringly hot, noisy, tedious, excessively rule-bound. The other patients seemed uninteresting and depressing. My eldest son was bewildered: he wasn’t allowed on the ward. Why wasn’t mummy coming home? He became rejecting and oppositional. My heart broke some more.

I begged for leave but developed extreme insomnia and could not get well. I remember one night getting up, sitting down, and getting up again for seven hours, unable to decide whether to wake my baby for a change. A burly nurse was recruited to force me unceremoniously to move to a room near the nurses. I was told I would be sectioned if I tried to leave. An informal patient, I was allowed out for only half an hour each day.

I told my consultant I wasn’t depressed, her ward was the problem. ‘You’re depressed’ she repeated, implacably, and brought in a second-opinion doctor. I was desperate to leave as soon as I arrived, yet those two weeks became two months.

Having a mental illness is one of the most disturbing and frightening experiences one can ever have. The rug is truly pulled out from under your feet. Suddenly you are somehow lesser, rendered powerless. I was one of the lucky ones. I knew what was happening, and was more able than most to speak up for myself. I got treated very quickly. Many don’t.

My consultant was a former colleague of mine, a peer. She was kind but paternalistic, and my care became a battle of wills. She believed her plan was faultless and that her ward was entirely beneficial. She conducted her ward rounds like job interviews and treated me like an adolescent. I watched helplessly as she pathologised my normal behaviour and denied promises to get me to comply.

We were fragile mothers, but were often shamed like naughty children for not ‘doing the right thing’, sometimes berated across the ward for all to hear by opinionated nursery nurses with little sensitivity to our mental state. Mothering a screaming baby during an intense crisis of confidence was a tortuous task, yet it was rarely considered that our babies were exacerbating the problem. Scared and disturbed women were managed by intimidating rapid response teams.

I lost trust in them, I hid symptoms. One night I nearly killed myself but never told.

I now can understand how my patients feel when they say they no longer want to go back to ‘that place’. How lack of insight guides them away from reminders of restraint, coercion, scrutiny and endless questions. How it is difficult to trust people who don’t treat you as fully human.

Despite all the positives and the expertise in my care, an important element was missing. Care needs to be more than medication, therapies and keeping people safe. Now I’ve had a taste of my own medicine, I always ask: ‘What is this like for you, what do you really need to help you get well?’

We have further information on doctors’ well-being and our doctors for doctors services

Silk resembles love.

Rose petals

Couple of years before he died, Saagar thought I needed to see a therapist. He didn’t explain why. At the time I couldn’t figure out what he meant. I guess he could see that I did not know how to access the sweetness of life. I allowed preoccupations of work and practicalities of life to fill my time, leaving little room for love.

Painfully delicate and surprisingly strong, silk resembles love. The silkworms destroy the silk they produce as they emerge from their cocoons. That is why farmers have to make a choice between silk and silkworms. Often they kill the silkworm while it is inside the cocoon so as to pull the silk out intact. It takes the lives of hundreds of silkworms to make as scarf. But for the silk to survive, the silkworm has to die.*

At a small and sweet ceremony, in the middle of nowhere, in the presence of twenty people, holding the holy fire as witness, Si and I tied the knot yesterday. It was a joyous day, a celebration of love.

On the previous night the moon was full. Saagar was with us.

“Sorrow prepares you for joy. It violently sweeps everything out of your house, so that new joy can find space to enter. It shakes the yellow leaves from the bough of your heart, so that fresh, green leaves can grow in their place. It pulls up the rotten roots, so that new roots hidden beneath have room to grow. Whatever sorrow shakes from your heart, far better things will take their place.” – Rumi

*Ref: ‘Forty rules of love’ by Elif Shafak.

 

If all the world’s a stage…it has props.

downloadIn the background stands a majestic Palladian structure in brick red. It’s nearly 400 years old. The artistic roof displays beautiful finials, turrets and cupolas. It’s easy to imagine the large atria and sweeping staircases on the inside. It appears as if this building emerges from an expansive lush green sea.

The cricket nets are placed to the right of this building. Many hours have been spent here, laughing, picnicking, practising, talking, spectating and playing. Multiple recordings of his bowling action have been made here, each scrutinised to the nth degree by him. Each one distinct to his discerning eyes but all identical, to my lay ones.

In the fore-ground sits a TV screen with ‘Friends’ playing. He likes Rachel. I think she plays the role of who she is in real life. Not much acting ability required for that. He doesn’t understand that. He thinks I don’t like her. I like Phoebe. We both love ‘Smelly cat’. He watches it when he is down. I see why. However feeble, it always brings a smile to his face as it does to mine now. However predictable, it doesn’t fail to amuse, to lighten the heart. The impression of a head is clearly formed on the red velvet cushion resting at the corner of a black leather sofa.

At centre-stage, a pink and silver drum-kit sits atop a hand woven black and white Moroccan rug.  2 goblet drums wait in the wings – a Djembe and a Darbuka. A set of initialled drum-sticks read ‘SN’. Big round black bags lean against the wall. They weigh half a tonne. They encase special cymbals – presently silent but given half a chance, fully capable to raising the roof of not just our house but also that of the neighbours.

A fake snake coils on the study table with its tail realistically hanging off the edge. It has been used successfully to blow the living day-lights out of people of all ages, shapes and forms, on many occasions. It took me 2 years to immunise myself against it.

An unwieldy ragged cricket bag with wheels at one end lazes against the wall. One entire shelf in the cup-board is dedicated to cricket gloves, balls and other paraphernalia.

The sun streams in from 2 big sky-lights and the space is lit like a sanctuary. A silver Apple Mac laptop lies gaping on the study table with funny cat-videos playing. It’s connected to the dome of Harman Kardon speakers which hide under the table.  An assortment of coins, head-phones and keys splash across the dark wood table top. A few coffee mugs are scattered around the room with various shades and degrees of dry brown coffee lining the insides.

Behind the door is an overflowing willow laundry basket. A pair of union-jack boxer shorts shine through. The space smells of an unkempt temple with a male caretaker –  hints of incense, musk and testosterone. From the door hook hangs a towelled maroon dressing gown.

All the props are here, tell-tale signs of a life. Where’s the main man? At a subtle level, his absence is only physical. His essence is present.

It’s in all the props, in the air around them, in the luminosity of the room, in everyone he touched, made jokes with, played music with, was kind to and loved. In the glow in my eyes, the light in my heart. In me.

His essence is here. I only need to close my eyes. This must be immortality.

“Do you not know that a man is not dead while his name is still spoken?”                              – Terry Pratchett

(Ref: A fully referenced, peer reviewed article published in an educational, medical  journal for GPs; a case study of a young man called SN to demonstrate the importance of Suicide prevention training and the role of human factors in patient safety: http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/1755738017724183.)

Day 977

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Rebecca

Rose Polge. Rebecca Ovenden. Lauren Phillips.
All junior doctors. All deaths by suicide, in just over one year.
The only three publicly known. Total number not known.

Polge’s mother linked her suicide directly to conditions at work – exhaustion because of long hours, work related anxiety, despair at her future in medicine and the news of the imposition of a new contract on junior doctors.

This problem is not limited to the UK. Earlier this year, 4 deaths within 5 months in Australia propelled the launch of an urgent investigation into the problem. No such investigation in the UK. Indeed, the law here explicitly excludes suicide from the requirements to report work-related deaths. A GMC report in 2016 stated that the low morale amongst junior doctors was putting patients at risk. Signals of distress and a dangerous level of alienation are an indication that the system cannot simply go on as before.

At the 2017 BMA junior doctors’ conference, delegates gave the union a mandate to lobby for all suicides to be investigated formally by their employer, jointly with the GMC, Health Education England and the BMA.

In France, workplace suicides are a well-recognised entity.
Yes. Suicides are complex. There can be many contributory factors. But when there is clear evidence of a link to work pressures, that should be given appropriate attention.

Ref: BMJ Article: Suicides among junior doctors in the NHS followed by an interesting discussion.