Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Undercover Care: The Abuse Exposed

Watch this on the BBC: "Undercover Care: The Abuse Exposed". And then reflect on the failings of the Care Quality Commission in this case* and whether they could detect or act to investigate any similar case in the future**:
"A specialist residential hospital in Bristol is being investigated by police after secret filming by BBC Panorama found a pattern of serious abuse.

"During five weeks spent filming undercover, Panorama's reporter captured footage of some of the hospital's most vulnerable patients being repeatedly pinned down, slapped, dragged into showers while fully clothed, taunted and teased.

"The programme decided to secret film after being approached by a former senior nurse at the hospital who was deeply concerned about the behaviour of some of the support workers caring for patients.

"Mr Bryan reported his concerns to both management at Winterbourne View and to the government regulator, the Care Quality Commission (CQC) but his complaint was not taken up.
Ian Biggs, regional direction of the CQC for the southwest, said an opportunity to prevent abuse was missed when Mr Bryan's complaints were not investigated."
* Headed by the former chief executive of West Midlands strategic health authority (SHA) who presided over the Mid Staffordshire scandal lest we forget, so she has relevant expertise in this area!

** Still, at least the unit concerned probably had policies for dealing with dog mess, so it can't have been all bad as far as the CQC are concerned.

Friday, 20 May 2011

Some free advice on achieving 'world class NHS productivity' McKinsey style

Following on from my previous post on McKinsey's recommendations to save money in the NHS, I don't think they've been ambitious enough - where's that blue sky thinking we've come to expect from the cream of Oxford's 20-something PPE graduates?

As I mentioned before, McKinsey's approach is to list every institution in order of cost/efficiency/whatever and claim that lots of money could be saved if all those 'poor performers' performed at the level of the median. I think this technique can be taken even further, and I'll offer my advice for free!

The UK spends phenomenal amounts of money per capita on healthcare compared to most countries in the world - using some figures I had leftover from this set of posts on 'The Spirit Level' - we can see that in 2006 the UK spent some $2.5k per capita on healthcare compared to a world median of around $200! That's a potential saving of over £80bn!

What is that you say, other countries don't necessarily have great healthcare from that $200? Well McKinsey don't deal in trifles like cost-effectiveness and health outcomes, but I suppose I can stretch to looking at that if you insist - I like to think all those years at university were good for something. Using that leftover data I was talking about above we can see what sort of return you get for $200 versus $2.5k. Below is a figure plotting data for life expectancy (in 2007) versus health expenditure per capita (in 2006):

I've fitted a regression line (which is logarithmic to better reflect the shape of the data). At $2434 the UK gets a life expectancy of 79yrs (versus the predicted 81yrs) while the median spend of $218 would predict a life expectancy of 69yrs (versus a median world life expectancy of 72yrs) - countries spending around $200 include Venezuala (74yrs), Malaysia (74yrs), Kazakhstan (65yrs), Thailand (69yrs), Tunisia (74yrs), Tonga (72yrs), Gabon (60yrs), Fiji (69yrs), Guyana (67yrs), Equatorial Guinea (50yrs), Namibia (60yrs), and Swaziland (45yrs).

So there you go, save £80bn and 'cut the deficit' or bail out the banks, and it'll only cost you a predicted loss of 10yrs in life expectancy - good value I'm sure you'll agree. No? Maybe that's a bit too radical for you, but there's another approach we could take - look at that figure above again, doesn't seem like you get much of a return for you investment when your expenditure goes past around $1.5k per capita (where the graph flattens out) does it? If we cut our expenditure to $1.5k per capita we would predict a life expectancy of 78yrs and save £36n - thats a reduction of life expectancy of 1-3yrs for billions saved, an absolute billy bargain!.*

So basically I cannot see how nearly halving UK health expenditure could possibly have any down sides - I've proved it with numbers and graphs and everything! I wonder if McKinsey are recruiting?

* If you think this proposal is a joke, consider that it is the natural consequence of the putatively 'progressive'  reasoning used in 'The Spirit Level' that increased health expenditure has no beneficial effect on health outcomes like life expectancy for richer countries such as the UK (I disagree) - no wonder David Cameron likes it.

Thursday, 19 May 2011

McKinsey save the NHS

McKinsey in shock discovery that if you put things in numerical order half of them will fall below the median. What tautology will they demonstrate next?

Via DNUK again - here's a terrifying presentation from McKinsey*:

In February 2009 McKinsey was instructed by the Department to provide advice on how
commissioners might achieve world class NHS productivity to inform the second year of the
world class commissioning assurance system and future commissioner development. The
advice from McKinsey, in the form of the following slides, was provided in March 2009.

I recommend having a detailed read to see what a bunch of 20-something Oxford graduates with no experience of the health service can come up with. Basically if everything was done cheaper and more efficiently it'd all be fine - who'd have thought?

In slide 17 we see how if we just reduced all clinical staffing levels to the median we could save a few billion - no mention of whether staffing levels have an effect on quality of care (another race to the bottom) - indeed they later go on to argue against any attempts to ensure minimum staffing ratios:
"Some Royal Colleges are recommending introduction of mandatory staffing ratios on safety
grounds that will lead to increases in staff required above the activity growth e.g ratio of
1/28 per midwife 

Certain service reviews are also recommending more staff is required e.g. stroke, children"

But they argue we should "Limit introduction of mandatory staffing ratios" to save money - they can't be arguing for minimum staffing ratios for any reason, I'm sure it'll all be fine.

Highlights include slide 28 where they show how you could cut 'bed days' by 10% in mental health if only length of stay could be reduced to the median in the poor performers. I wonder whether those trusts with longer lengths of stays admit more severe patients and don't admit less severe patients, perhaps managing them in the community, and thus have already saved money over the other providers who are admitting less severe patients but getting lower average lengths of stay? Well I'm afraid McKinsey can't tell us because they are analysing data in the same way you would expect someone who has no idea of the context and a money-making axe to grind to do.

Presumably we could save money by abolishing all those specialist tertiary and quaternary hospitals with their high risk procedures because DGHs get better results for the same procedures. If only these specialist centres could be as good as those small local hospitals, the difference in performance couldn't possibly be because all the really difficult ones get sent to the specialist centres - how are we supposed to show that on our pie charts?

On slide 53 we can see some of the "procedures with limited clinical benefit" which are "relatively ineffective" or "potentially cosmetic" that we can 'de-commission' to save nearly £1 billion. Femoral hernia repair for instance, as someone on DNUK points out, the risk of strangulation is 45% at 21months in a femoral hernia, this is not a 'cosmetic' procedure!

A particular highlight is slide 60 where we find out that US physicians who do imaging (e.g. x-rays) in their offices do more investigations than those who need to refer to a radiologist. Presumably this means that we are going to massively increase the training places and consultant jobs for radiologists so we can save a few quid on chest x-rays by running each request past a radiologist first?

On slide 64 we can see that as digoxin in heart failure doesn't increase life expectancy only improve symptoms we shouldn't fund it at all. Move over NICE and the controversial QALY, if it doesn't stop you dying it isn't worth a penny.

As someone on DNUK points out, all their reasoning is based on using publicly available data to rank everyone, and then claim that £X million can be saved by making the 'worst performers' as good as the best performers. Conceptually difficult ideas such as figuring out if the factors making worse performers are actually amenable to intervention (e.g. you aren't going to make the people in rural areas all close together and nice and efficient for home visits like in a city however many graphs you draw) are just so much irrelevant detail.

I wonder how much we could have saved by getting some people who know what they're talking about to do a review instead of McKinsey and their one-size-fits-all Panglossian musings?

* This isn't new, for instance, the Ferret Fancier reported on it last year, but I think it is timely to revisit what facile idea people like this (yes Lansley, I'm looking at you)have about 'reforming' the NHS.

Sunday, 8 May 2011


From BBC 4 - 'Movin' On Up: Pop Hits from 1991' - a look at the early nineties Indie/Dance crossover scene. I have a particular weakness for 'Can You Dig It?' by the Mock Turtles.

Friday, 6 May 2011

The GMC is not fit for purpose

Via Doctors.net.uk (DNUK, the site where doctors go to bitch) I came across this story:
"A YOUNG doctor who tried to sell her staff pass for free hospital parking can only work as a medic again under strict conditions, watchdogs have ruled.
"...a foundation year doctor, put her free permit to park at Southampton General Hospital up for sale for £5 on the website Gumtree, the Fitness to Practise Panel of the General Medical Council (GMC) was told.
NHS fraud investigators found out she later claimed a senior colleague made a sexual advance in exchange for ''looking more favourably'' on the problem.
"During the meeting, on October 14, 2008, Dr White alleged she was firstly warned she could get the sack by her employers, the Southampton University Hospital NHS Trust. 

"But the more senior colleague is then alleged to have gone on to say: ''I can ensure that the trust looks on your case more favourably'' and put his hand on her knee before adding: ''What will you do for me?''
But Brian McCluggage, counsel for the GMC, told the hearing in Manchester the allegation had ''no basis'' and was a ''defence mechanism'' to counteract her difficulty over the parking permit.
The doctor, who is in her 20s and qualified after completing her medical degree at the University of London in 2007, was not present or legally represented at the hearing.
She was also accused of breaking a ban on her entering the hospital and failing to attend an examination by a psychiatrist as requested by the GMC." 
Now obviously what she did was naughty - you shouldn't be selling your free parking permit, even for just £5, but this is a trivial matter that should have been dealt with between employee and employer with a slap on the wrist. This is the consensus amongst the DNUK commenters.

So what are we to make of her claim that she was sexually propositioned by her educational supervisor? Most of the senior doctors on DNUK think this is highly unlikely and agree with the GMC that this is probably a "defence mechanism". Well I am not so sure. Medicine is stuck in some kind of 1950s time warp where casual racism, sexism, and sexual innuendo are commonplace. Many female junior doctors of my acquaintance have been sexually propositioned by senior doctors (usually their clinical or educational supervisors) and several have been offered inducements (e.g. authorship on publications or attendance at conferences). Even I've been questioned about my sexuality by a consultant on a ward round in front of patients.

The GMC is commonly used as a tool by hospital trusts and senior doctors to keep juniors in line (paying over £400/yr for the privilege) - how many employees making an allegation of sexual harassment against a senior work colleague are required to to attend a psychiatric evaluation? It wouldn't be possible if this was a simple employer-employee industrial dispute where this kind of punitive action would be illegal, but is just fine when it becomes a 'fitness to practice' issue.

But compare and contrast:
"...had all restrictions lifted on his ability to practise after a General Medical Council panel reviewed his case.

"The former Royal Navy surgeon was convicted at Manchester Crown Court in 2003 of making indecent photographs of children, ordered to sign the sex offenders’ register for five years and given an 18-month community rehabilitation order."
Or here:
"...admitted making inaccurate records after the operation and was slammed by the GMC panel yesterday for “significant departures from good medical practice”.

The panel cleared him, however, of serious misconduct and found that his fitness to practise was not impaired.
The panel also decided against issuing the surgeon with a warning."