Learning from The Well

The Well is an extraordinary community of people. I respect them deeply and learn so much from every time I have the privilege of being with them, listening to their stories. They are all people on the journey of recovery from drug and/or alcohol addiction. They are welcoming, non-judgmental, caring, embracing and kind. Most importantly of all, they offer hope that no matter how far into hell you have been, there is a way out and no matter how badly you have messed up, you are lovable and worthy of a new chance. There are countless stories of those who have gone before, through the “12 steps”, and found transformational grace and and the chance of a new life. The support they give to each other, especially at times of trouble is based on openness, honesty, trust and a genuine love for each other that holds through difficult battles for a better future. ¬†Every story I have heard has humbled me, and each time I am with them, I go away changed and filled with fresh hope. I am so grateful that I can now count several members of the community as my friends. I feel we, as the medical community have much to learn from them.

 

 

After my last meeting with The Well community, which was in Barrow In Furness, I then spent some time with an excellent Diabetologist, Cathy hay, who is employed by Cumbria Partnership Foundation Trust, but works at Furness General Hospital (another example of how we are breaking down boundaries and working more effectively as part of Better Care Together). I was learning from Cathy about how she and her amazing team are transforming how they care for and work with people who have diabetes. Like me, she believes that hierarchical behaviour gets in the way of building good relationships across teams, playing to each other’s strengths and working effectively with patients. She has worked hard to break down the ‘need’ for consultant follow-up clinics, putting the power back into patients hands. They have had a much more proactive approach at working with patients to really educate them and empower them about their own conditions through the fabulous work of the Diabetes specialist Nurses and Dietitians and a team of Psychologists, lead by Elspeth Desert, who help patients learn how to face up to and cope with physical health issues.

 

Group programmes (such as DESMOND, DAFNE or the X-PERT courses) enable patients to build supportive relationships with one another and networks form in which patients are rightly able to become the experts in their own conditions, supported by a team of people who they can draw on, as and when needed – determined by the person with the condition. This cuts the need for outpatient appointments drastically and releases the team to work far more effectively. The ‘Walk Away from Diabetes’ programme encourages those with the earliest warning signs to try and avoid lifelong medication altogether through exercise, dietary changes and accountability with one another.

 

In some ways, the approach is similar to what I have experienced of The Well and it got me thinking about just how transferable this approach could be across health services, in an extremely timely and cost effective way…..(which although sounds potentially a little mercenary is actually really important – we do actually have a responsibility to use the resources we have as well as we can, and our previous models are no longer deliverable, given our financial and staffing pressures, let alone the increased numbers of people accessing services). What if, once people are diagnosed with a long-term condition, we give them the option of a self-directed, learning approach to their condition, in the context of community with others and a supportive network around them? We could save an inordinate number of unnecessary outpatient appointments. It puts people back in charge of their own bodies and conditions, far more empowered to make informed choices and enables care to be available in a more efficient, cost effective and timely manner. Communities of people, facing up to their conditions together, learning together, helping each other, supporting and resourcing each other and finding improved health¬†and wellbeing at every level as a result.

 

Many people across the UK have at least one long term condition. Many of these people also struggle with a mental health problem at the same time, often linked to the condition they live with. A more cooperative approach can break down some of the barriers and enable people to connect, which will improve both their physical and mental health at the same time.

 

We are beginning to see an exciting redesign of our respiratory services along these lines, lead by Pat Haslam, Farhan Amin, Tim Gatherall, Shahedal Bari and the team……I wonder how brave we can be across the board and how much better our care might be together if we did?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Better Care Together – We Have to Fix the IT

iu-4In all the places I have seen an ability to try something radical and new in the sphere of health and social care (Valencia and Arkansas being two prime examples), I have witnessed one key component. They have fixed the IT! It is really not beyond the wit of man, though I accept it is not altogether straightforward. However without it, change is painfully slow and it is extremely difficult to make the kind of changes we need to see. I do not understand why the Government will not invest in this area appropriately. Here in Morecambe Bay we need to crack this nut if we’re going to be able to let go of our past and embrace a truly collaborative and integrated way of working.

 

The benefits to everybody would be huge. Patients would have safer, more streamlined and ultimately more affordable care. This would cut the complaint and litigation culture to an absolute minimum. Clinicians would be able to work far more collaboratively, effectively, safely and efficiently. If we allow ourselves to imagine just what a difference it could make then we will act to make this a reality.

 

There have been some great strides forward made here by the excellent work of GPs like Tim Reynard and George Dingle, who are developing some fantastic new ways of working and building relationships between primary and secondary care. But their efforts are being hampered by a lack of a truly integrated system.

 

As just one example, take the referral process. If a patient comes to me asking for a referral, which may also require some complex tests to help reach a diagnosis, currently there is so much wasted time and effort plus duplication of work that it is an absolute farce. Say someone comes to see me with a suspected rheumatological condition. Currently, I can see them, assess them, order some (but not all tests) and then refer them. My notes will be on my computer system, but my letter to the consultant may not fully convey all the intricacies of the history I have taken over weeks. My letter has to be written and sent off (on occasion they get lost in the system, causing huge frustration to the patient). Then the consultant sees them……..she will probably order further tests, which she will then write to me to organise, or have them done at the hospital, then she will see the patient again. She will then start some treatment, but will write to me to prescribe it and then the patient will then come to collect it from my surgery. She also asks me to refer onto our community physio teams (a letter I read at 7pm after 11 hours of non-stop work, when I want to get home for my kids’ bedtime stories). There are several points of frustration for everybody involved in the process, not least the patient with wasted time and resources along the way (plus extra letters to answer complaints for missed referrals or whatever else might go wrong).

 

In an integrated system, the patient sees me. I write good and detailed notes, which I link to the consultant rheumatologist, assigned to work alongside my practice, Unknown-5with a short note attached. She then liaises with me in a straightforward way about the case, decides what extra tests are required and these are organised (within appropriate resource allocation) ahead of the consultation. The consultant sees the patient, with a full history and set of investigations. She agrees a treatment course with the patient, prescribes the necessary drugs, which automatically appear in the electronic record, so my team can print out the prescription and the patient can pick it up. She also simultaneously links her consultation to the community physio with a short note and her therapy can be arranged in a slick and easy fashion. This has saved loads of steps, time, energy, complexity and errors. It is a basic example. There are many more areas, like maternity care, patients with complex medical problems involving the care of multiple departments etc where this is simply a no brainer.

 

So what is stopping us? Actually it’s pretty straight forward. 1) A lack of sensible and adequate resourcing from the government within the Vanguard system, which would allow us to make significant changes in a small amount of time. Instead of concentrating on a few Vanguard sites and allowing us to really flourish, things have become far too watered down across way too many experimental initiatives and the funding promised has not been made available. This really needs to be rectified. I’m sure there are things we could also streamline within our Accountable Care System. 2) Stupid competition laws and sweeteners offered to some of our partner providers to use certain IT systems which are clunky and unfriendly when it comes to creating platforms that can talk to each other, have slowed us down. We need a focused and joined-up approach. 3) Priorities. My argument is that without integrating the IT fully and investing in front end smart IT that promotes self care and more appropriate use of resources, we will not achieve together what we could in a way that will benefit everybody.

 

In short, we need to fix the IT. It is the solution to a vast majority of our problems and will allow us to really have Better Care Together.

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Time to Face the Music

Tweet We have yet to really face up to the crisis we are in. We keep on pretending that by making a few alterations here and some adjustments there to how we deliver health and social care, we might be able to save the NHS. But this simply isn’t true. Last weekend saw a crisis [Continue Reading …]