What makes a ‘good’ GP?

5 Apr

by Golda Gibson, member of the Greater Manchester PSTRC Research User Group

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My guess is that for every person there will be a slightly different answer. We all want them to be knowledgeable, to know when something might be going wrong with us and to act decisively thus protecting us from further harm. Where we may differ will be in our personal relationship with our GP, what is perhaps important for one will not necessarily be the same for another. Within us we all have what are known as ‘trigger points’, areas controlled by our emotions, past memories good and bad of how we were related to in a given situation, the ‘building blocks’ of our emotional development that affect how we behave in many circumstances and those momentous moments when we can actually act objectively. You will all be aware of that instantaneous moment when you meet someone for the first time – and dislike them!!! How can that be? It is not THAT person that is the problem, it is our response to past negative experiences which that person has now triggered. This can happen between family, friends, colleagues, the person in the street and yes, with your doctor, he/she too is just another human being with all the ‘baggage’ we all carry around with us each day.  They and we, can be reactive, defensive, introverted, extroverted. They and we, can have home problems, family problems, car problems, even late night problems, but what we want in our exchanges is for our healthcare professional (and us) to be able to ‘place’ those problems where they belong.

When we go to the GP or any healthcare professional for that matter we are asking to be ‘made better’, we are unable to be ‘objective’ about ourselves. This childlike position is vulnerable and it is in this very situation when, if we are not received in a positive away the relationship can falter. What we are looking for is respect for our lack of knowledge, concern for our anxieties, interest in our suffering and empathic understanding of how we feel and why.

Are there such GPs about? Probably not that many but I am very lucky to have found one.

Four years ago when I first became ill my diagnoses floored me. ME!!! – (not M.E.) the one who exercised regularly, ate healthily, kept control over my weight and was still working in her 71st year in a very exacting job, I had become chronically ill, my body had let me down and all that NHS propaganda about the need for a healthy lifestyle hadn’t worked. To make matters even worse, twelve days after my diagnoses my husband had a stroke. In less than two weeks I had become a patient and a carer, my career was over and my whole world had changed irretrievably.

I met my GP not at the point of diagnoses but shortly after when treatment was being started and I was given an urgent appointment. His first words to me on entering his room were …’I’m so sorry’. Those were the first kind words I’d had said to me and they penetrated through this shocked state I was in. Without being fully aware of it I had made a mental note that day that this was the doctor I was going to deal with, this was a ‘feeling’ man, someone who without a word from me had recognised my anguish and made it his own, our ’emotional baggage’ had not got in the way of our first exchange, we were accepting of each other, I was vulnerable, sad, totally overwhelmed and angry, add to that my  ‘feisty’ personality and my anger could have destroyed the moment but his warmth towards me quietened me.  

During that first eighteen months he always made a 4-6 week follow-up appointment for me before I left his surgery, even though there were times I felt that perhaps I didn’t need it. He became my advocate, guiding me, advising me, listening to my concerns and always ready to respond. When treatment with one clinician or another wasn’t up to standard he responded. He never judged me, never made me feel I was a ‘difficult patient’ although I’m sure others might and have!  I ask questions and I expect answers and I know when I was being ‘talked down to’ with rubbish. My GP is never patronising, always and without exception he is pleased to see me, he likes me and I can tell. When I enter his office, time is mine, there is no clock saying ‘time up’, I am made to feel that I have as much time as I need.

As time went on my own condition worsened and also that of my husband. Through numerous ‘urgent’ moments my doctor was always there, guiding, advising and supporting. When I couldn’t get appointments to see him he gave me a ‘hotline’ that allowed me to make direct contact with him should I need it and a promise that he would always ‘fit me in’ should an appointment be necessary. He also connected me to a new innovative community caring system where I am able to make contact with a Nurse Practitioner directly on the day I need it if I became unwell and found it difficult to care for my husband.

My husband who was not initially with him but with another practice, is not very mobile, it is difficult for me to get him to the surgery, impossible at his previous surgery as they were on a main road next to traffic lights with no parking area whatsoever. My doctor has said to me more than once he would call and see ‘H’ at home if it would be easier for me! I have also known him just to phone me to ask how I am when he had not seen me for a while. Very rare qualities.

Some months ago I received an email from one of the doctor ‘comics’ that are delivered to the practices around the country and also electronically. In it an article asked if there was a deserving GP in your practice that was worthy of being nominated for a national champion award for the care of R.A patients. This was my chance to get my wonderful doctor recognised and acknowledged for his exceptional care to me and all his patients. I then had to set up a plan whereby I enlisted the help of the Assistant Practice Manager who in turn sought help from one of the other GPs in the practice to fill in a part of the form I couldn’t due to not being privy to that particular information, and then it was my turn to get my chance (only one) to write about this wonderful man. I knew it had to be written with a passion that conveyed just who he is and what he is to his patients. As I said, I was only going to get this one chance and they had only given me 400 words in which to do it!! There would be many practices and patients nationally who would be submitting their own nominee and there were only ten championship awards to be had in the whole of the country, my writing had to ‘stand out’, it had to make the reader ‘feel’ as I did – AND WE MANAGED IT – HE GOT THE AWARD!!! The ceremony took place at the House of Commons on the 2nd November and the awards were given by the Prime Minister Mrs Theresa May.

Afterwards he wrote me the most beautiful thank you letter in which he told me that the personal qualities I bestow upon him are really a reflection of myself. Doesn’t that just tell you what kind of a man he is. I am extremely fortunate and blessed to have such a doctor. In this crazy 21st century NHS, with reductions and shortages in just about everything, when talking (the same story) to just one more person makes you want to tear your hair out and you begin feeling as though it is you who are the problem. When you hear yourself getting sharp and snappy on the phone to one or other department and no one is actually listening and even if they listen and promise that what you’re asking for will get done – it then doesn’t get acted upon. When I reach that rock bottom moment I have my GP.

Thinking outside of the box: presenting patient safety issues creatively

30 Mar

by Sally Giles, Research Fellow in PPI Research and Jackie Nightingale, member of the Greater Manchester PSTRC Research User Group

In 2016 Sally Giles (Research Fellow, Core Theme) took part in the Academy of Creative Minds programme which brought together a dynamic, disparate group of artists, from composers to circus performers, directors to writers. These artists shared their ‘tricks of the trade’ with health researchers, to help them build confidence and expertise in using the creative arts to convey research messages in a more powerful and meaningful way.

As part of the programme Sally was required to work with one or more of the artists to produce a creative way of conveying a research message of her choice.  Sally worked with a circus performer to develop a way of highlighting communication issues in general practice and how this can affect patient safety.  As part of this process Jackie Nightingale (a member of the Greater Manchester PSTRC Research User Group) was asked to get involved in developing this performance.  Jackie played a starring role as the main patient in the scene.  Their full performance was a major part of the NHS R+D North West Annual Research Conference (video above).

Both Jackie and Sally thoroughly enjoyed the experience and would recommend the course to anyone who would like the opportunity to think outside of the box when trying to get research messages across in an enjoyable and innovative way.

Greater Manchester PSTRC Dissemination Event: A Lay Delegate’s Perspective

28 Mar

by Moira Lyons, member of the NIHR Greater Manchester PSTRC Research User Group (RUG)

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As a Core Member of the Greater Manchester Primary Care Patient Safety Translational Research Centre (GM PSTRC)’s Research User Group (RUG), I was delighted to be invited to attend the Centre’s recent flagship dissemination event, “Safer Primary Care: A shared responsibility for system-wide learning”, which was held over two days at the Manchester Conference Centre. For me, the inclusion of members of the public in the delegate list (and not purely as spectators – several RUG members took part in the delivery of workshops, alongside researchers) underlined the genuine commitment to patient and public involvement apparent in every aspect of the Centre’s work.

It was very exciting to see the evidence of how much had been achieved over the last five years and to hear something of the plans for the new PSTRC! The atmosphere was one of expectation and enthusiasm and an inextinguishable optimism for the future. One theme resonated throughout – communication and sharing data. The more we can make use of the data available to us and share the information we have with all parties involved, the better it will be for everybody and the easier it will be to progress all aspects of patient safety. And what better exemplification of that than this event!

The speakers were relevant, informative and entertaining, the organisation was faultlessly streamlined – even the catering was of a high standard, plentiful and varied. A balance was struck between opportunities to listen and learn and opportunities to discuss and ask questions. The poster session was a lively event, as presenters eagerly approached delegates who showed an interest in their work. The diversity of research within a common theme was impressive, as was the dynamic exchange of information that drew everybody in. For example, I had a very interesting discussion with two GPs about the differences in diagnosing practice between the UK and other parts of the European community; a Dutch GP will routinely consider the option of whether or not there is “a need to treat” – a relevant concept in view of the current concern about overprescribing. It was also good to hear a GP decry the use of the “one appointment one issue” policy that has been adopted in some general practices.

The Event Dinner at the Principal Hotel, on the evening of the first day, was well attended. The after-dinner speech, delivered by Professor Richard Roberts, was a highlight. Even though, as he pointed out, he was all that stood between diners and dessert, his audience was captivated by a superb combination of thought provoking comment and insightful reflection, informed by personal experience, as he considered the future of primary care.

The two days passed all too quickly.

James Hind, member of the Community Pharmacy Patient Safety Collaborative, scoops Clinical Excellence Award at Superdrug’s annual Awards Ceremony

23 Feb

by Penny Lewis, Medication Safety theme

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James Hind, pharmacist and member of the Greater Manchester Community Pharmacy Patient Safety Collaborative, scooped the Clinical Excellence Award at Superdrug’s Annual Awards ceremony in Heathrow last week. The ceremony which aims to celebrate employees’ successes and achievements also marked 25 years of Superdrug Pharmacy. Other awards included Nurse of Year, Operational Excellence Award and Pharmacist of the Year (for which James was also nominated). James was awarded this honour after being recognised for his outstanding contribution to patient safety as part of his work with the Community Pharmacy Patient Safety Collaborative.

James, who has undergone training in risk assessment techniques and incident analysis as part of the collaborative, has shared his learning across the company via their online ‘Hub’. One of James’ innovations has been the design and production of bag labels to prompt both staff and patients to check their medications or ask any questions before leaving the pharmacy. James has conducted a survey to explore patients’ views of the label which has shown that the label is well received by patients and can, in some cases, prompt patients to take a more proactive approach to checking. James hopes to evaluate the impact of the label on patient safety incidents over the next few months.

James’s passion for improving patient safety engendered by his work with the collaborative has inspired James to work more closely with Superdrug’s Safety Office and also suggest improvements to their incident reporting system. James also noted that error reporting has increased threefold as a result of his participation in the collaborative and that his team are now far more reflective of their practice when things go wrong.

Well done James!

Read James Hind’s blog post on his involvement with the Community Pharmacy Patient Safety Collaborative here

The ‘triple aim’: a reality check

27 Jan

by Jonathan Stokes, Research Associate in the Centre for Health Economics at The University of Manchester

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In December, I completed the final exam (or ‘viva’) for my PhD, which was funded by the NIHR Greater Manchester PSTRC. In the discussion section of my thesis, I presented an argument that my examiners suggested I should explore further, so I’m using this blog post to try and record some initial thoughts, which I hope to turn into an academic paper at some point (so feel free to post any feedback you have below).

So, my argument, briefly, was this:

  • Health systems are recognised to have a so-called ‘triple aim’, aiming to improve health and satisfaction of patients, while reducing costs. With the move towards ‘integrated care’, policymakers argue that integration can improve all triple-aim outcomes simultaneously.
  • In the NHS, integrated care is defined around the patient’s feeling of joined-up care (i.e. around the outcome of satisfaction). However, policymakers, when setting out the aims of their integrated care models aim primarily to reduce costs, usually by reducing emergency hospital admissions (probably unsurprising given the ‘NHS crisis’ currently being covered in the media).
  • But the literature tells us that the ‘triple aim’ goals are quite complexly interlinked, so achieving one does not necessarily have a beneficial effect on all of the others. For example, the highest patient satisfaction (good) is associated with the highest overall healthcare expenditure (bad), and may be also those experiencing worse health outcomes, e.g. a higher mortality rate (very bad).
  • Therefore, there is a potential conflict between the patient-level (the feeling of more joined up care for the patient) and system-level (reducing costs) goals of integrated care in the NHS, and potentially a need to prioritise aims.

Basically, there is little evidence that the ideal scenario of not having to pay for improvements in care quality is plausible (note: that doesn’t mean we can’t have this improvement, it just implies that we would need to invest more in our health system to get it). And, if we design interventions that address the NHS definition of integration and increase satisfaction with care, then we won’t necessarily meet the pressing system aims of reducing costs in the current NHS funding crisis.

So, to my mind, if we want to contain costs, this would mean that the patient satisfaction aim (while still important, and should continue to be measured) should be bumped down the priority. This is partly because people who are healthier tend to be more satisfied in any case (so it is partially a secondary outcome of better health and should take care of itself if people get better health outcomes), but also because in a tax-funded system like the NHS, where the overarching values are delivering equity and social justice, sustainability of the system is more important than preferences of the individual (i.e. ‘consumer-focused’ healthcare). Especially when aiming primarily for satisfaction of the individual harms the system.

To try and explain why this might be, imagine that if we’re primarily aiming to improve satisfaction with care, implementing an intervention where we gave everyone a dram of whisky as they waited for their appointment might send satisfaction rates through the roof, but it would cost a fortune and might not do people’s health a lot of good.

Healthcare is a complicated process (which is why it takes so long to train healthcare professionals, who in fact never stop receiving training during their working lives). One of the ‘market failures’ in healthcare (i.e. why a normal economic free-market system, where the consumer decides, doesn’t work) is ‘information asymmetry’ (i.e. the expert knows more than others, so can make the more informed decisions). While this asymmetry is clearly in patients’ favour in some aspects (e.g. experience of disease/ experience of using health services/ treatment burden etc.), it favours the physician/expert in others (e.g. treatment course in many cases/ health system setup or organisation/ cost of care etc.). The patient is therefore not likely to make the most informed decision when it comes to overall health system costs.

In view of this, I think there’s an interesting debate to be had about the role of ‘patient-centred’ care more widely, and how this fits with our system goals. For example, I went to a seminar the other day where an NHS Vanguard programme talked about how they were shifting their approach in patient care to one where they ask the patients to define their goals, asking them ‘What matters to you?’. But, before that, we’d had a talk from NHS England about the national metrics that the Vanguards would be assessed on, centred on system goals (again, primarily about reducing avoidable emergency hospital admissions). This got me thinking: what if the patient’s goal is something that doesn’t affect our system goals whatsoever, or is even completely contrary to these? If it was in the USA, the patients themselves (or their health insurer) would pay for the option and it wouldn’t matter so much, but in a tax-funded system there is more need to think resourcefully at this wider system level (and try being poor and getting decent healthcare in the USA if you think that’s the way to go instead).

The role of the patient in influencing/defining research priorities could be another debate. For example, the PSTRC and wider NIHR funders are very focused on Public and Patient Involvement (PPI) in research. But, what if the researcher (while employing common sense, and not purely as a stereotypical ivory-tower-type) has access to more knowledge about where the current knowledge gaps are, and which questions are possible to answer and how? Is it a good use of resources to pay for the ‘lay perspective’ in all cases (or at all)? (But, of course, this is just one simplified question in the debate of the role of PPI in influencing and defining research priorities, the balance of which I hope to explore further in a future post).

In sum, I think some of the assumptions we make (in good faith, I’m sure), about the aims and delivery of health services, and research to support these services, are still open to debate. While we dwell on ideally achieving all outcomes, we neglect the reality of the need for trade-offs and priority setting. But, I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts.

What are patient and clinician priorities for research in primary care patient safety?

9 Dec

by Rebecca Morris, Research Fellow in General Practice theme

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Over the last few months I have been working on the James Lind Alliance (JLA) Primary Care Patient Safety Priority Setting Partnership (PSP) (to find out more about the JLA read Richard Morley’s blog ‘Welcome to the Revolution’). The aim of our PSP is to ask ‘what are the questions that patients and clinicians have about primary care patient safety?’ The final aim is to produce a list of the 10 top uncertainties (or questions) that need to be addressed by research.

What have we been doing? Anyone could submit their question about primary care patient safety to our survey which was open from June to mid-July for 6 weeks. We advertised the survey in many places with the support of our steering group, their networks, and other organisations to reach as many people as possible and we had a total of 443 questions submitted.  Thank you to everyone who took part! 

The next stage in the JLA process involved working through the list to categorise the questions into different categories and by the areas of primary care (eg pharmacy, general practice, dentistry, out of hours care, self-management or broader primary care questions).  Then we worked through the list of questions to combine duplicate or similar questions. This produced a list of 173 possible uncertainties.

What are we doing at the moment? We are currently searching the literature to see if these questions have been answered using the JLA criteria for a ‘certainty’. We have been working with Central Manchester Foundation Trust libraries that have been searching the literature and we have been reviewing the searches to see if any of these questions have been answered. Any questions not answered already will then form a list of ‘uncertainties’. There has been a great range of questions posed which has made very interesting to look through such a diverse spread of topics. The next stage is to work with our PSP to initial prioritise the list of uncertainties and then in January we will have another survey which will open to everyone to help us identify the top 30 uncertainties to take to the final workshop in March, 2017.

What’s next and how can you get involved? Thank you to everyone who has taken part so far or worked with us to identify the literature. It’s a fascinating project with lots of great questions being posed and shows how many important areas there are for primary care patient safety research. Now I want to pass it back to you to help us prioritise the key areas for primary care patient safety research from these questions so please keep your eye out for the next survey in January, 2017. Thanks!

To keep up to date with what is happening and find out when the next survey is open follow @JLA_PtSafetyPSP