X Close

Research Department of Primary Care and Population Health Blog

Home

Menu

Archive for the 'CAPS' Category

Working with the AcaMedic students to produce research

Megan Armstrong8 October 2021

This blog post is written by Melvyn Jones (A Clinical Associate Professor in General Practice), Surinder Singh (a Clinical Senior Lecturer at PCPH), and See Chai Carol Chan and Jack Shi Jie Yuan (both medical students).

This summer a very slowly gestating project came to fruition with the publication in the BMJopen of a study exploring the influences at medical schools on students with respect to GP career choices (see here). Surinder Singh and myself quite a few years ago (2017) thought that an anthropological approach using our students to capture these drivers of student carer choice might be quite a useful addition to the field, on the back of the NHS Wass report “By choice not by chance”.  At the same time the AcaMedics group (a multi institutional collaboration to support students developing research skills) was looking for potential projects. We set our plans and were lucky to be selected by two highly able UCL medical students (Jack Shi Jie Yuan  and See Chai Carol Chan) to work on the project.  Meanwhile across London at Imperial a very similar project was being undertaken.  It took Sophie Park to join the dots and make this a cross institutional project- key to improving the generalisability of our findings.

Getting ethics was tricky though.  Would we need consent to use quotes from someone making pejorative comments about general practice as a career?  Clearly this would never happen, but thankfully the ethics committee agreed that the anonymised observation and reflection occurring away from the clincal setting was acceptable.

Rolling forward via presentations and posters at the UCL Education conference in 2018, the Trainees in the Association for the Study of Medical Education (TASME 2018)  and SAPC Madingley hall conference helped us shape our thinking.  Writing workshops helped refine our argument. However, publication proved much more difficult with a straight rejection and then a very long drawn out peer review, eventually leading to another rejection.   A key motivation for our students was to have something to put in their publication box on their NHS junior doctor Foundation Programme application, but by this stage they had all graduated and moved on.  It took a final push by Ravi Parekh at Imperial assisted by myself and Surinder to have a good fresh look at the manuscript, the data and the peer reviews and to decide it was with another go.  So in the summer 2021 it finally appeared.

What are the messages from the study?   Some of the findings were there before- students feeling a GP career was the default, the fall back position. For students used to competing for everything this seems like defeat. The interesting observation was the student’s perception of the internalised process of being a primary care physician. The fact that the GP sits and the patient comes to them was perceived as being too passive to students used to the swarm of the ward round buzzing around hospitals. The internal process of thinking about clinical decisions such as how to balance treating a patient’s heart failure without worsening their kidney function or making them fall over as their blood pressure drops, was invisible to the students. It was only when the students were sitting in the consulting hot seat did they begin to see the considerable intellectual challenge to many primary care consultations.   But were they exposed to “bad mouthing” of general practice?  Yes to some extent, but interestingly they were also exposed to hospital clinicians who talked up the role of general practice and the challenges to doing it well.

It was always challenging for students to undertake their own research project (see here). However it is a great shame that students appear to be completely marginalised since Covid when it comes to undertaking research projects. Recent new guidance from the NHS Research Authority prevents undergraduates from conducting research.  Thus, perhaps the ultimate conclusion for our study – which has come to light after publication – is that we’re faced with far fewer opportunities to prepare and encourage the next generation of would-be researchers.

Working with students on research projects is a however great experience but the time frame for ethics and sluggish peer review processes can be a real issue when they have fixed deadlines like revising for finals, moving on as junior doctors and the almost complete lack of headspace to think about research when they are enveloped in working as an NHS foundation doctor.  Find a project however, with a realistic outcome and timeframe and you will find a rich seam of motivated talented individuals who are keen to contribute.

Opinion piece: My experiences so far of hybrid working at the PCPH department

Megan Armstrong1 October 2021

Dr Sarah Griffiths, Senior Research Fellow and Study Manager of
PriDem: Best practice in primary care led dementia support

In this blog, Sarah Griffiths discusses her experiences of beginning the hybrid working at the PCPH department.

Emily Spencer (Research assistant, PriDem) and I have started coming into the department for two days a week.  We have been together in the office twice so far and have seen benefits. Both being new to UCL, it has been an important step in starting to feel a sense of belonging to a department. I think being in-person for some of the time is enhancing the development of an effective working relationship. At the start of each week, we plan weekly goals and have started to prioritise tasks that would work best in-person for office days. Enjoying everyday conversation just for the sake of it, without this being a prelude to a meeting has been a novelty, and the potential for using bodily movement for ‘acting out’ anecdotes or being unaware of what our faces are doing, has created a much-missed sense of communicative freedom. Going for coffee together, airing thoughts as they occur and having spontaneous discussions (rather than having to compose them in an email or wait until the next Teams meeting), are all great benefits of hybrid working and breed creativity. It can also be easier to read and respond to people’s emotions when in person and there is nothing like a co-present giggle for enhancing well-being.

It is early days, and there haven’t been many people around in the department yet, but some chance meetings in the kitchen and corridor have led to spontaneous conversations with new people and a chance to connect with the wider team.

Before the pandemic I loved rare WFH days. To me they were luxury; a chance to switch off distractions and ‘get in the flow’, with all the benefits of being able to get washing done, cuddle the dog and eat whole packets of biscuits unobserved. However, since this became the norm, the enjoyment has gradually faded for me. I’m fortunate that I can find space to work, away from family members, and I don’t have children living at home. Even so, at times I’ve felt trapped by lack of variety. Like many people I’ve been super productive, but have often worked crazy hours, due to a lack of natural breaks to travel to/from work, and no escape from the ‘workplace’.

I live in Cornwall! It takes me three and a half hours to get to London and I’m lucky because I have accommodation when I am there. I am working out ways of working on a train when the internet is poor, saving tasks for travel times that don’t require online connection. Having a snooze and recharging my batteries has also been on my to-do list.  I have noticed that coming back to Cornwall after my London stint has led to appreciating and enjoying home working all over again.

However, there are issues to overcome to optimise the hybrid working experience, and everyone’s situation is unique. Although currently Emily and I have started fulfilling the UCL guidance of aiming for 40% embodiment, this guidance is somewhat ambiguous and has been variously interpreted. It will not be possible in the literal sense once recruitment starts. Our working practices will vary week to week, in terms of where we need to be and how we approach interactions. Some research activities will be in-person and some remote. However, the challenges of background noise and confidentiality mean remote activity will not necessarily work when carried out in a shared office. We are going to have to negotiate how we do this, building in flexibility and ensuring that we have the right equipment and office ventilation. Headphones and suitable microphones can help with confidentiality and researchers keeping their own vocal volume to a minimum, although many of our participants will have reduced hearing and/or find background noise highly distracting.  The current requirement to wear masks in shared offices adds to the challenge of video calls, especially as people living with dementia and those with hearing difficulties gain communication support from seeing people’s faces.

These challenges have led us discuss future arrangements for hybrid working within our team. The 40% embodiment guidance includes discussing individual circumstances with line managers. We hope that this can be highly flexible, with clearer guidance around managers using discretion and trust; monitoring how well research staff are engaging in remote versus in-person working. Importantly, this will entail balancing efficiency with wellbeing and maintaining a sense of belonging. Fatigue is one to keep an eye on as people return to the world of commuting. Depending on the person, the team and the tasks at hand, researchers may want to be embodied for a whole week at time, but then balance this with a week of working from home. I hope that we can continue this conversation about how we enter the new phase of hybrid working.

 

Developing educational leadership skills as an early career academic

Megan Armstrong24 September 2021

Dr Danielle Nimmons, GP and NIHR In-Practice Fellow

I am a GP, researcher and educationalist at UCL and I thought I would document some of the milestones in my early academic development. As part of my training I was fortunate to be awarded an NIHR Academic Clinical Fellowship (ACF), which has been an amazing opportunity to develop my research and teaching skills.

My research has included studies on frailty, dementia and Parkinson’s, for example conducting reviews. However, I knew at the start of my ACF that as well as research, I wanted to gain teaching experience and achieve outputs, such as accreditation as Fellow of the Higher Education Academy / HE Advance (FHEA). At UCL we are very fortunate to be encouraged to develop both research and educational skills. Below I outline the main teaching I was involved in, what I got out of it and suggestions/tips for others who may be interested in developing educational leadership skills as an early career academic.

Teaching experience at UCL

As a GP registrar in my 3rd year (ST3) I became a module lead for Preparation for Practice (PfP), part of the Year 4 MBBS programme. My roles included designing simulated patient cases for the students, direct teaching, supporting other GP tutors and administration staff, course evaluation and quality assurance. I also led the transition from face-to-face delivery to online as Covid hit, developing recorded (asynchronous) and live webinar (synchronous) material.

In my 4th year of training  (ST4) I decided to get experience of small group teaching in my GP practice as a Medicine in the Community (MIC) tutor, for two UCL medical students over the academic year. Students spent 10 days in my GP practice in total, and I got to see them improve clinically while I gained personal tutoring skills. Sessions included an interactive workshop on a disease /condition, formative assessment in the shape of MCQs, role play and patient interactions between students and my NHS patients who gave up their time to help.

What I got out of it

I love teaching and find it incredibly rewarding! The variety of teaching experiences helped break up my academic time and focus when working on different project. These experiences included:

  • Face to face teaching,
  • Online teaching,
  • Developing teaching material,
  • Evaluation teaching activities and
  • Quality assurance

These experiences also contributed to my successful fellowship applications and being awarded a UCL Excellence in Medical Education award (EMEA) (see here).

I was also fortunate to get some outputs, including presentations, awards and publications: Medical student mentoring programs: current insights and The UCL ‘Preparation for Practice’ teaching programme. 

Reflections

Balancing GP training (exams and completing my compulsory training portfolio), research and teaching can be challenging, at times I definitely felt like I was juggling many balls and just about managing not to drop any! The extra academic day in my 4th year helped but only because I taught less on the PfP programme, which gave me more time do practice based (MIC) teaching. Having boundaries and recognising when my plate was full also helped. For example, during my final GP (MRCGP) exams I tried not to do too much else.

Teaching was most enjoyable when I linked it to my research. This included selecting patients from under-represented groups for students to interact with in their GP teaching sessions, which complemented my clinical research project exploring how people from under-represented groups self-manage Parkinson’s disease. As my teaching was informed by the research I was doing, it also saved time when it came to lesson planning.

Finally, most of my academic time was during the pandemic and teaching not only helped me network with other academics within the department but also with hospital registrars doing acute medicine and acting as teaching fellows, academic pharmacists and academic clinicians from a range of specialties based at the medical school main campus.

Tips

Tips for other early career academics:

  1. Say ‘Yes’ to opportunities
  2. Recognise limitations; i.e., Time! It is impossible to do everything but you can make a real impact to programmes if you focus on a select few.
  3. Look for a variety of educational experiences. For example, online vs in person teaching, design teaching vs evaluation
  4. Try and get some outputs, e.g., presentations, higher education fellowships like the FHEA
  5. Link it to your research!
  6. Discuss with current ACFs and module leads to get an idea of what is best for you.

I would encourage all early career academics to gain teaching experience and hope this has inspired some to do so!

References

  1. Nimmons D, Hatter L, Davies N, Sampson EL, Walters K, Schrag A. Experiences of advance care planning in Parkinson’s disease and atypical parkinsonian disorders: a mixed methods systematic review. Eur J Neurol. 2020 Oct;27(10):1971-1987. doi: 10.1111/ene.14424. Epub 2020 Jul 30. PMID: 32603525.
  2. Nimmons D, Giny S, Rosenthal J. Medical student mentoring programs: current insights. Adv Med Educ Pract. 2019 Mar 4;10:113-123. doi: 10.2147/AMEP.S154974. PMID: 30881173; PMCID: PMC6404673.
  3. Nimmons D, Jones MM. The UCL ‘Preparation for Practice’ teaching programme. Med Educ. 2020 Nov;54(11):1077-1078. doi: 10.1111/medu.14326. Epub 2020 Sep 3. PMID: 32885435.

Primary care in the COVID-19 era: do we still practice preventive care?

Megan Armstrong14 September 2021

Alaa Alghamdi is a GP who is undertaking a PhD at UCL

This blog is by Alaa Alghamdi and tackles the practice of preventive care during the COVID-19.

To begin this blog, I have shared a medical case study that clearly addresses the topic at hand:

A 55-year-old male Saudi professor, married with five children, unknown to have any medical illness and not on medications. He presented to the emergency department (ED) complaining of unintentional weight loss of 10 kg in the last six months associated with fatigue. Initially, he attributed his symptoms to the psychological impact of the pandemic. Because of the fear of risk exposure to COVID-19 alongside lockdown restrictions of visiting health facilities for non-emergency, he avoided seeking medical help until he remarked jaundice. In the ED, a CT scan with IV contrast was performed. It showed circumferential wall thickening involving the short segment of the ascending colon with pericolonic enlarged lymph nodes and numerous hepatic lesions indicating metastasis. He was diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer and referred to a tertiary specialist hospital. Unfortunately, palliative care was the only option in his late presentation, and he passed within two months of his diagnosis.

This case might be one of many other cases that have been affected by disrupted healthcare during the pandemic that prioritised COVID-19 cases. Cancer could be one of the preventable deaths through appropriate screening and early detection (1). Screening is effective for both early detection and prevention in 80% of colorectal cancers (2) and has the potential to reduce colorectal cancer deaths by 60% (3).

Preventive screening is a vital part of primary healthcare practice (PHC). As with many other countries, Saudi Arabia (SA) has started preventive care services early with various programmes delivered through PHC (4). However, like many other countries, the Saudi Ministry of Health (MOH) has diverted resources to healthcare facilities to be able to manage the high numbers of COVID-19 patients. Although SA’s response to the pandemic places it at the highest ranks on international indexes (5) and the second at NIKKEI COVID-19 recovery index (6), the WHO showed that COVID-19 significantly impacts health services for non-communicable diseases (NCDs) globally, including SA (7).

My PhD project aims to explore the patient experience with PHC to provide the appropriate engagement and utilisation of PHC in SA. One of the key issues I have been exploring is the influence of COVID-19 on patient engagement with PHC. An important emerging point is the preventive screening during this pandemic for non-COVID conditions. There are growing concerns that have been arisen by using the online health services, which might have an indirect impact on health providers’ practices towards preventive care. In SA, many online health services have emerged throughout the pandemic, including telemedicine, online appointments and medication delivery. Although most participants expressed their appreciation of the unusual and massive use of online health services, the GPs’ practices towards regular screening are questionable. In my research position as a clinician interviewing a diabetic patient, I asked about the last time that haemoglobin A1c has been tested, the response was startling:

“I had it last year, but the coronavirus pandemic delayed tests appointments. They only care about dispensing the medications.” (P7)

Screening for diabetes complications such as retinopathy, diabetic nephropathy and diabetic foot, which are supposed to be done annually, has been postponed for most of the participants.

The children’s regular vaccination programme also has been affected. Some participants who attended a PHC regularly complained about the delay in completing their children’s vaccines due to difficulties in obtaining a vaccine appointment.

“They told me that the vaccinations were over and I have to wait for a new appointment. This is the reason why my children did not get their vaccinations until now, even though they are to join the school this year. My daughter still has to get one vaccination and my son still has to get two vaccinations.” (P15)

COVID-19 impact on care for patients with non-COVID conditions and the concern around preventive screening is not restricted to Saudi healthcare. A UK survey found that access to health services for people with long-term health conditions was 20% lower during the COVID-19 peak period. Some of the most significant falls in the use of health services are for mental health, heart disease, diabetes and cancer (8). According to the latest records by WHO (April 2021), 41 million people each year die from NCDs, including diabetes and chronic cardiovascular and lung diseases, which is equivalent to 71% of all deaths globally. In addition, each year, more than 15 million people die from NCDs between the ages of 30 and 69 years (9). Primary prevention is a vital component of the response to NCDs (1)(9), and reduces over one-third of all cancer cases (10). Moreover, people living with NCDs are at a higher risk of severe COVID-19-related illness and death (7)(11).

This reveals how preventive care is required at an alarming pace and emphasises the need for the urgent implementation of efficient prevention strategies during COVID-19. GPs’ efforts must be focused on adhering to evidence-based screening guidelines. Health system policymakers also need to recognise that prioritising COVID cases for pandemic control have other health consequences and demand responses to all health needs. This does not minimise the important measures taken to reduce the risk of COVID-19, but it is an opportunity to build a resilient recovery and emerge stronger from the pandemic.

References

  1. Burke CA. Colorectal Neoplasia [Internet]. 2017. Available from: http://www.clevelandclinicmeded.com/medicalpubs/diseasemanagement/gastroenterology/colorectal-neoplasia/#bib1
  2. Cunningham D, Atkin W, Lenz H-J, Lynch HT, Minsky B, Nordlinger B, et al. Colorectal cancer. 2010;375:18.
  3. He J, Efron JE. Screening for Colorectal Cancer. Advances in Surgery. 2011 Sep;45(1):31–44.
  4. Sebai ZA, Milaat WA, Al-Zulaibani AA. Health care services in saudi arabia: past, present and future. Journal of family & community medicine, 8(3), 19–23. 2001;
  5. Saudi Arabia’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic places it at the highest ranks on international indexes [Internet]. ARABNEWS. 2021. Available from: https://www.arabnews.com/node/1880171/saudi-arabia
  6. GRACE L. Nikkei COVID-19 Recovery Index. 2021.
  7. Brunier A. COVID-19 significantly impacts health services for noncommunicable diseases [Internet]. Available from: https://www.who.int/news/item/01-06-2020-covid-19-significantly-impacts-health-services-for-noncommunicable-diseases
  8. Charlesworth. Shock to the system: COVID-19’s long-term impact on the NHS [Internet]. 2020. Available from: https://www.health.org.uk/news-and-comment/blogs/shock-to-the-system-covid-19s-long-term-impact-on-the-nhs
  9. WHO. Noncommunicable diseases [Internet]. 2021. Available from: https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/noncommunicable-diseases
  10. Vineis P, Wild CP. Global cancer patterns: causes and prevention. The Lancet. 2014 Feb;383(9916):549–57.
  11. Bashir S, Moneeba S, Alghamdi A, Alghamdi F, Niaz A, Anan H, et al. Comorbidities in Patients with COVID-19 and Their Impact on the Severity of the Disease. Journal of Health and Allied Sciences NU. 2021 Jan;11(01):01–7.

Embedding palliative care into homeless hostels in the UK

Megan Armstrong6 July 2021

 “I’ve seen so many people die…so much of it over the last 19 years…And it’s [the project] invaluable. It should have been done years ago” – Hostel Staff member

In this month’s post, Dr Caroline Shulman and Dr Megan Armstrong discuss their work on embedding palliative specialists into homeless hostels across the UK.

Dr Megan Armstrong is a Senior Research Fellow now managing the PD-Care study and is PI of ‘optimising self-management of long-term multi-morbidity in people experiencing socioeconomic deprivation’.

Image of Caroline Shulman

Dr Caroline Shulman is a GP in Homeless and Inclusion Health and a Honorary Senior Lecturer at UCL. Caroline is continuing to roll this project out, including providing training for hospices on homelessness issues.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

People experiencing homelessness have a high rate of multi-morbidity, frailty and age-related conditions at a young age and are at high risk of dying young [1,2]. Previous work found people living in homeless hostels often had severe physical and mental health problems, often complicated by substance misuse, and despite the complexity of need they almost never have access to palliative care support [3]. This lack of palliative care support is due to variety of reasons including hospices being unable to support those with addictions and mental health issues, uncertainty about when someone might be palliative, and hostel staff feeling uncomfortable about discussing palliative care [3]. For many people experiencing homelessness, the hostel can be their preferred place of care as they often consider this to be the closest place they have to a home [4]. The lack of palliative care support and appropriate places of care leads to hostel staff supporting very unwell people with complex needs.

Our project aimed to improve access to high quality care and support for people experiencing homelessness who have advanced ill health and to reduce the burden on frontline staff, by embedding training, support, and a multidisciplinary team approach into hostels [5]. Palliative care nurses and social workers attended an intensive two-day training course into homeless issues. Free online training resources were shared (www.homelesspalliativecare.com); this includes tools that can support hostel staff to work with people with palliative care needs. Following training, we held a stakeholder event for homelessness, health, social care and addictions commissioners and providers. This resulted in useful connections being made between different organisations. Following this event, the palliative care staff spent 1-2 days per month in the hostels.

Palliative care staff trained and supported hostel staff to identify red flags, consider which residents they were concerned about who may benefit from a multidisciplinary approach and supported them to involve other members of the multidisciplinary team in the care of their residents. Hostel staff felt much more confident and empowered to approach other agencies as a result of the project.

“I think everyone is just a little bit braver now, to step forward and [to outside agencies] be like, actually, this is how it is supposed to be. You’re not supposed to be telling us that.” – Hostel staff member

The palliative care teams also helped staff focus on a holistic person-centred approach, exploring what ‘living well’ means to someone. As a result of the support provided, hostel staff were happy to support someone who had a new advanced cancer diagnosis, to have a planned death within the hostel. This was the resident’s choice and prior to the project, this would not have been considered.

“Initially when we think that someone is going to die, we would have said “no,no,no, we  need to move them on quickly, we don’t want them dying within the hostel” ..but then we started to change our way of thinking because of this…we did start saying, well yes this is his home” – Hostel staff member

There is a need to refocus how we support people experiencing homelessness with advanced ill health or complex health needs. Not everyone will recover so to work in a more person-centred way we need to explore what insights people have around their illness and explore what living well means to them. If recovery is not an option, the least we can do is support someone to have a dignified and respectful death.

References

  1. Rogans-Watson R, Shulman C, Lewer D, Armstrong M, & Hudson B. (2020). Premature frailty, geriatric conditions and multimorbidity among people experiencing homelessness: a cross-sectional observational study in a London hostel. Housing, Care and Support Vol 23 NO. 3/4 2020, pp. 77-91
  2. Aldridge RW, Story A, Hwang SW, et al. Morbidity and mortality in homeless individuals, prisoners, sex workers, and individuals with substance use disorders in high-income countries: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Lancet 2018;391:241–50.
  3. Shulman, C., Hudson, B. F., Low, J., Hewett, N., Daley, J., Kennedy, P., Brophy, N. & Stone, P. (2018). End-of-life care for homeless people: a qualitative analysis exploring the challenges to access and provision of palliative care. Palliative medicine32(1), 36-45.
  4. Hudson, B. F., Flemming, K., Shulman, C., & Candy, B. (2016). Challenges to access and provision of palliative care for people who are homeless: a systematic review of qualitative research. BMC palliative care15(1), 1-18.
  5. Armstrong, M., Shulman, C., Hudson, B., Brophy, N., Daley, J., Hewett, N., & Stone, P. (2021). The benefits and challenges of embedding specialist palliative care teams within homeless hostels to enhance support and learning: Perspectives from palliative care teams and hostel staff. Palliative Medicine, 02692163211006318.

Eating and drinking difficulties in dementia: what should we be aware of when discussing the difficulties with people with mild dementia?

Megan Armstrong17 June 2021

To mark the National Nutrition & Hydration Week 2021, Kanthee Anantapong (Psychiatrist and UCL PhD student) will share recent work from his team, which involved people with mild dementia discussing their perceptions about eating and drinking difficulties.

At some point in dementia progression, 8 in 10 people living with dementia can experience some types of eating and drinking problems. This includes food appetite and preference changes, inability to recognise food and utensils, behavioural difficulties and disruptive eating routine, and swallowing difficulties. The difficulties usually become more severe at the later stage, and this is challenging and demanding for families and healthcare professionals to make decisions and provide support for persons with dementia [1]. Knowing what people living with dementia would want for themselves will help the families and professionals in managing the eating and drinking difficulties at the later stage.

In our recent project, we talked to people with mild dementia and asked them about their understanding and needs on eating and drinking problems resulting from dementia [2]. We found that many people with mild dementia experienced some mild changes in their appetite, food preferences and social meals. Few people had mild swallowing difficulties. Most attributed these changes to their own choices, other life circumstances such as retirement and moving house or other physical diseases such as dental problems, diabetes and Parkinson’s disease.

People with mild dementia recognised that at the later stage they would be less capable of taking care of themselves, including eating and drinking problems. They generally accepted some assistances if other people would try encouraging them to eat and drink, offering them favourite dishes and drinks, and adapting utensils and home environment. They did not want their families to sacrifice themselves too much for this because it would require lots of their effort and personal time. People with mild dementia did not like other people treating them like a child to give them food and drink, for example, coaxing or pretending the spoon is an aeroplane. The use of artificial nutrition and hydration (feeding tubes and drips) was also not their ideal choice to support eating and drinking problems, especially the feeding tubes. While intravenous drips were acceptable for treating acute illnesses, they felt tube feeding was unnatural and would not bring them pleasure of eating and drinking and quality of life. So, they preferred families and professionals to avoid using tube feeding for them.

There are growing recommendations to include people with dementia in making decisions and planning for their own care [3]. However, from our work we found that most people with mild dementia want to delay discussion about eating and drinking difficulties because they thought this might not be related to dementia, or they probably could adapt their lifestyle to prevent the progression. The fears of being burdensome and being treated like a child could also be the reasons for their wish to delay. The delayed discussion and planning can lead to the later eating and drinking difficulties being managed against the person with dementia’s preferences, dignity and autonomy, for example, the overuse of tube feeding [1]. In fact, people with mild dementia in this study strongly wanted to maintain their sense of autonomy and have a good quality of life throughout their dementia progression, especially at the end of life.

To ensure that at the later stage the person with dementia will receive eating and drinking support aligned to their wishes, we encourage families and healthcare professionals to gradually but continuously engage the person with dementia in the discussion and bear cautions in mind about the person’s understandings and fears about eating and drinking problems and assistances. For people who have missed the chance to the discuss this, we recommend families and professionals look for and respect clues from the person with dementia when providing eating and drinking care. For example, to offer their favourite food and drink if they requested, or to stop and try later if they refused at the time. The aims of eating and drinking at this stage should be to respect their dignity and maintain wellbeing, but not to keep complete nutrition, which are in line with the voices of people with mild dementia participating in our project.

References

  1. Anantapong K, Davies N, Chan J, McInnerney D, Sampson EL. Mapping and understanding the decision-making process for providing nutrition and hydration to people living with dementia: a systematic review. BMC Geriatr. 2020;20(1):520. doi: 10.1186/s12877-020-01931-y.
  2. Anantapong K, Barrado-Martín Y, Nair P, Rait G, Smith CH, Moore KJ, et al. How do people living with dementia perceive eating and drinking difficulties? A qualitative study. Age and Ageing. 2021. doi: 10.1093/ageing/afab108.
  3. Alzheimer’s Society. From diagnosis to end of life: The lived experiences of dementia care and support. London: Alzheimer’s Society, 2020.

 

Thinking about how we support family carers of people with dementia in light of carers week

Megan Armstrong9 June 2021

In this post Nathan Davies talks about some of the recent work he has led on support family carers of people living with dementia, and talks about some of the Covid-19 work which has been implemented in the NHS.

This week marks Carers Week, you may have all seen in the media the wealth of stories and people talking about the challenges that informal carers (friends or family) have experienced over this past year during the pandemic. Carers UK have reported this week that 72% of carers have not had any breaks from their caring role since the start of the pandemic (1).

We know one of the most demanding caring roles is caring for someone living with dementia, with over 750,000 carers currently in the UK. Most of my work looks at how we can support family carers, in particular in the later stages of dementia or planning for the end of life. This is a particularly difficult time for carers and one of the key challenges they face is making decisions about the individual’s care. Decisions may include moving into a care home, increasing the amount of support, managing eating and drinking difficulties, and ensuring the everyday well-being of the individual.

In a recent project we explored the decision-making process carers go through and how they make decisions(2). We developed a model of decision making which considers the context and the processes involved. Making this process and the context explicit may be helpful for carers as a guide to help their thinking when making complex decisions, but also for professionals when trying to start significant conversations.

It is important to consider the context in which decisions are being made including the individual’s personal preferences about their care, any advance care plans they have made or lasting power of attorney in place, considering if the person still has capacity and what their current health status is, and finally, thinking about what support is available from others.

As you can see in the image there were 7 stages in making a decision:

  1. Identifying who is the decision maker or the team and clarifying what is their role
  2. Sharing information about the decision which needs to be made, this may include what the problem is, what are your options etc
  3. Clarifying what is important to those involved, considering their values and preferences, being mindful of disagreement
  4. Managing and considering the emotions involved in making what can be quite significant decisions
  5. Think about what is the feasibility of the options which are available – this is likely to include finances and the impact on the wider family or support network
  6. Balancing what you would like to do (preferred choice) with what you can actually do
  7. Make the decision and reflect on the outcome of this decision to inform further decisions or refine your decision

Now this may all seem rather theoretical, but we have already used this to create some applied resources which carers and professionals can use to help with discussions and decisions.

We have developed a decision aid to support family carers of people living with dementia who are at risk of or who have Covid-19 and are not able to make their own decisions. The decisions focus on care at home, care in the care home and care in hospital. In particular, we have included:

  • How to manage care at home
  • How to support your relative/friend in a care home
  • What to do if they become unwell
  • Should they go to hospital
  • How to keep in touch if you can’t visit

We provide a variety of information including the signs and symptoms of COVID-19 which may be different for older people, and the legal aspects of making decisions. We bust some myths about what support options are available at home. We also consider the benefits and advantages of different options of care including going into hospital.

This guide has been widely shared and is freely available online. It has been implemented as part of NHS England and NHS Improvement Dementia COVID-19 Pathway.

The latest version of the decision guide is available now from: https://www.ucl.ac.uk/psychiatry/decision-guide

For our work on this we also won Alzheimer’s Society’s Dementia Hero Award for Research.

  1. Carers Week 2021 report. Breaks or breakdown Carers Week 2021 report. London; 2021.
  2. Davies N, De Souza T, Rait G, Meehan J, Sampson EL. Developing an applied model for making decisions towards the end of life about care for someone with dementia. PLoS ONE. 2021.

The consequences of Covid-19 for health policy in England

Nathan Davies12 August 2020

In this Post Steve Iliffetalks about how Covid-19 has changed the NHS and health policy in England.

The new coronavirus that arrived in the UK in January 2020 has triggered changes in the NHS which will be difficult to reverse, at least in the short to medium term. Crises lead to change when three conditions are met: there must be a latent desire for change, plus capacity to change, which pre-date the crisis; the crisis needs to reinforce the arguments for change, and even pre-figure new ways of working; and a political alliance is needed to turn the possibility of change into reality1.

In the beginning

The place and funding of Public Health as a discipline became a hot topic in the coronavirus debate as public health experts gave differing views of how to manage the pandemic. The ‘herd immunity’ view (building up a protective sub-population of the immune) was favoured initially, on the grounds that testing as many as possible of the whole population was impractical. The ‘herd immunity’ view gave way to the World Health Organisation’s strategy of mass testing in mid-March, but there were political as well as scientific reasons for this change.

Public Health, taken into the NHS from local government in 1974, was restored to local government control in the Lansley Reforms of 2012. Like the rest of local government, it has experienced substantial cuts in its budget over the last decade. Public Health has been under-resourced and the adoption of ‘herd immunity’ strategy reflected the inability to mobilise the resources needed for mass testing and contact tracing. National government has therefore opted for the second-best option of mitigating (but not controlling) the effects of COVID-19, in a country in which successive governments have deliberately underfunded Public Health services.

Changing strategy

Although it still has its advocates, the herd immunity strategy failed. The government turned to mass testing combined with containment measures (social distancing and closure of public spaces) as the optimal method for containing the pandemic. The change in strategy did not alter the problem of limited resources. Accident and Emergency departments were struggling with high levels of demand before the pandemic’s arrival, there were (by one estimate) 100,000 job vacancies across the health service, and historically the NHS had spent relatively little on intensive care facilities or staff.

An attempt to mitigate the impact of the virus by promoting voluntary action by individuals reflected not only the Conservatives’ ideological hostility to “big government” but also a belief that most people could be nudged (but not coerced) into following public health advice. This optimism ignores the evidence that people in affluent and individualistic societies easily adopt an ‘eat, drink and be merry’ culture, breaching social distancing (and other health preserving) rules as they do so.

The epidemiological modelling of Covid-19’s spread began to alarm politicians. They abandoned voluntary restraints on movement and gathering and imposed a more stringent “lock down” designed to slow virus spread and reduce demand for hospital care for those whose infection became life-threatening2.

A shambles

A seven-week delay in introducing containment measures – a delay described by one academic as “near criminal negligence” and “obfuscation”3– resulted in recurrent shortages of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) which provoked angry responses from NHS staff. The TV image of the Health Secretary loading boxes into a van showed what a shambles NHS supply had become.  The Health Care Supply Association admitted to a “system” failure, but without naming names or pointing fingers. According to the Health Service Journal some trusts turned to alternative suppliers to source protective kit, including DIY shops. Staff working in central purchasing teams reported particular difficulties in getting hold of PPE, including a lack of UK-based manufacturers, other countries restricting exports in order to meet their local demand, poor quality products arriving as buyers worked in a hurry, and some unjustified price rises introduced by suppliers. In some places protective kit was delivered to the NHS by army lorries.

Similar problems appeared once the government had changed strategy and promised widespread screening; screening tests were not available and university laboratories that could have contributed to test analysis had been mothballed and their staff sent home as part of university lockdowns 4. NHS plans to test were poorly executed. On 2nd April, The Times ran the front page headline “Virus testing plans in chaos” over an image of a large drive-through testing centre at Chessington World of Adventures at which nobody was being tested.

NHS takes control

The NHS then demonstrated what a real command-and-control management style could look like in a huge institution made up of intertwined and sometimes competing bodies. Some of these management actions may prefigure or bring about future changes. They include:

  • Commissioning NHS England took over commissioning services from Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs), which had anyway failed to transform the ways in which the NHS worked over the preceding decade. There was latent desire for change and the crisis required the NHS centre to work around CCGs. It seems unlikely that the CCG form of commissioning will be restored.
  • General Practice The NHS increasingly dictates the terms under which the public contact their GPs, encouraging doctor-patient communication via video consultations and email. The technologies for virtual consultations that took the commercial provider Babylon years to establish in two cities have become established across general practice in weeks. General practitioners are beginning to look like doctors working in a salaried service, instead of being sub-contractors. There is growing interest in a salaried option, especially among younger GPs5. Here there has been a growing sense in general practice that it could not go on in its present form, and NHS England agreed, although it did not anticipate a sudden change.
  • Spare capacity and labour direction Not only has the NHS taken up direction of professional labour, encouraging forward movement of specialists into A&E departments and seconding nurses to work in field hospitals, but it is also mobilising ‘returners’ from among the recently retired. Volunteers have also come forward in large numbers to provide temporary support for isolated people staying at home without family support. Managers in the NHS will want new, flexible ways of working to remain but some professionals may want to return to the status quo ante; both camps will search for political alliances.

New capacity was created by conversion of existing premises into infectious disease wards with ventilation capacity, and by construction of large field hospitals like the 4,000-bed Nightingale Hospital in London. The NHS bought almost all spare capacity (in terms of beds and staff) in the commercial medical sector. These acquisitions may not be permanent but there will be a backlog of postponed surgery and cancer treatments to work through, and spare capacity in theatres and beds will help this.  The need for slack in the system has been acknowledged for a decade but now there is publically visible spare capacity which may prove difficult for politicians to close.

  • Integrated health & social care By contrast, the NHS has failed, despite decades of talking, to reach agreement with local government social services, and so is still handicapped in transfers of mostly older people with multiple problems out of hospitals into community settings. Retired social workers are not being called back into action.

This historic mismatch may yet change, but it will probably do so slowly. There are accounts of some Integrated Care Organisations (which depend on collaboration between local government and the NHS) developing quickly because managers who would often act as brakes to progress are absent, dealing with Covid-19 planning. Others report that the NHS and local government operate with same distrust and disregard for each other as usual.

This is a deeply entrenched problem that successive governments have promised to uproot, but nothing much has happened. One suggestion that may offer employment opportunities during the coming recession is the formation of a community health worker service staffed by young people who have gone through a crash training programme6. And smaller changes may also make a difference. How different the NHS response to Covid-19 might have been if Advance Care Plans were in place for vulnerable older people like those living in care homes. Such plans should contain the option for us to decline ventilation, just as we may decline resuscitation. The NHS knows what to do but government has prevented change; it will probably work around the problem, but avoid trying to solve it

  • Market mechanisms The government has abolished payment by results and payment by performance in the NHS, and suspended payments for target achievement in general practice. It has also written off the debts that hospital and community trusts have run up with the Department of Health, a “hair cut” that has been talked about for two years. These are blows to the marketisation of the NHS, and will re-inforce the existing enthusiasm for direct control of the NHS from the centre. The NHS is beginning to look like a service that is clinically-led rather than target-driven. The supply failures suggest that it is time for the NHS to grow its own PPE and diagnostic testing kit manufacturers, in-house. A long-standing policy of marketisation may well be rolled back further when the full benefits of command and control management become evident
  • Public engagement & case mix Constant encouragement to relieve pressure on the NHS seems to have had an effect; attendances at A&E departments fell by one third in March 2020, the biggest fall being among young adults. With hospitals being depicted as dangerous, infectious places, potential A&E users are understandably avoiding them. Supplier-induced demand may also be reduced, as doctors and nurses prioritise those with infections and pay less attention to others, reducing follow-up or onward referral to outpatient clinics of patients who do not have Covid-19. Use of health services (often confused with ‘demand’) has risen relentlessly, but Covid-19 has stopped this. The public will want normal services to resume. There may be a latent desire to change but not the capacity; Covid-19 is a disruptor that causes an emergency mobilization but not long-term changes in behaviour.

These are only the most salient of examples of possible long-term changes in the NHS being initiated by short-term responses to Covid-19. Not all changes will take root. But overall the old order of the NHS will be shaken.

 

 

This blog is an expanded version of ‘The NHS takes control’, published in Renewal – a journal of social democracy 2020;28(2):15-19

Sources:

  1. Matthew Taylor How the coronavirus crisis could change the nature of government and democracy  The Policy Institute, Kings College London. 3rd April 2020
  2. Sarah Dalglish Covid-19 gives the lie to global health expertise The Lancet March 26th 2020
  3. The lockdown and the long haul, The Economist 21st March 2020
  4. Joe Buckley & colleagues A science-based socialist response to Covid-19 Scientists for Labour March 2020
  5. Jacqui Thornton How coronavirus will change the face of general practice forever BMJ 2020;369: m1279
  6. Andy Haines and colleagues, National UK programme of community health workers for Covid-19 response. The Lancet March 24th 2020

Families struggle to know what’s best for older relatives with dementia during COVID-19

Nathan Davies22 May 2020

This post is a press release from Marie Curie about the latest Covid-19 work being led by Dr Nathan Davies from our Centre for Ageing Population Studies. 

Families need more help to make quick decisions about the care their dying older relatives with dementia should receive during COVID-19, say UCL researchers, with the support of Marie Curie and the Alzheimer’s Society.

Many older people with COVID-19 will have dementia which affects 22% of people aged 85 and over1.  They may experience a sudden deterioration with rapid onset of respiratory failure.  Given the high death rates from COVID-19 in older people, even in hospitals, it is hard for people with dementia and their families to know what the best thing is to do about treatment and care options.

For those who lack the ability to make decisions for themselves, it may also mean that families have to make very quick decisions under stressful circumstances, for instance about resuscitation. They will also have to weigh up the pros and cons of either sending their elderly relatives to hospital for medical attention or receiving palliative care at home, where they may be more comfortable, and families will be able to maintain contact with them.

Having to make these difficult decisions can have a profound impact on the emotional well-being of family members, and lasting feelings of guilt and doubt if they made the right decision.

Researchers from the Marie Curie Palliative Care Research Department and Centre for Ageing Population Studies at UCL are producing an evidence-based guide, for family carers and people with dementia to use in the management of COVID-19. It is estimated that nearly half a million people with dementia in the UK live in their own homes2.  Latest available data also shows that 38% of all COVID-19 deaths occur in people aged 85 and over (up to 24 April)3.

The research team hopes that the new guide will also ease the emotional burden that families can experience and help resolve any feelings of uncertainty about the decisions they have made for their loved ones.

Tracey Lancaster, whose mum is living with dementia said: “I’m dreading the call from the care home to say that mum has coronavirus. I worry about her fighting for breath and therefore we would have to decide if she goes into hospital or what care can be provided in the home. I’m not sure that I could make that decision. So, a decision guide like this one would be invaluable for me and my family.”

The rapid project, funded by an Economic and Social Research Council COVID grant and supported by end of life care charity Marie Curie and Alzheimer’s Society, will identify factors influencing place of care and death in older people as well as the key challenges and decisions which family carers of people living with dementia are facing currently in the COVID-19 pandemic.

The pandemic brings extra challenges to those who are ‘social distancing’ from their older relatives – and means that they may also need to make quick decisions over the phone with a professional they’ve never met.

Co-lead researcher Dr Nuriye Kupeli, Senior Research Fellow at Marie Curie Palliative Care Research Department, UCL Division of Psychiatry and an Alzheimer’s Society Fellow, said: “It is a difficult time for people living with dementia and their carers. Due to measures such as social distancing, self-isolation and shielding, people living with dementia and their carers may not have access to support and guidance when making difficult decisions. This work will help us to understand better how people living with dementia and their families are managing important decisions about care during COVID-19 and how best to support them.”

Co-lead researcher Dr Nathan Davies, Senior Research Fellow at Centre for Ageing Population Studies, UCL Institute Epidemiology and Health, and Alzheimer’s Society Fellow, said: “This is such an important project and follows on work we’re doing prior to COVID-19. Many families caring for someone living with dementia will be making daily decisions on behalf of their relative with dementia. But we know many will not have discussed or planned end of life care.

“The nature of COVID-19, which can worsen rapidly, means they will be forced to make quick decisions with potentially little support or information. They may be feeling overwhelmed considering what is best for their relative. The decisions they make may have a lasting impact on their grief and wellbeing: We want to try and help support carers with decisions to ease these feelings.”

The researchers say that having early and open conversations about end of life wishes with older relatives, particularly during COVID-19, could avoid potentially futile and burdensome interventions at the end of life while ensuring that loved ones get the compassionate care they need.

Marilyn Beattie, whose husband Gordon died in 2019, following a dementia diagnosis, said: “I felt like I was shooting in the dark most of the time.  I didn’t know who to turn to, or what was available. It would have changed everything if I had an aid like this – a life-changer.”

           

Matthew Reed, Chief Executive of Marie Curie said: “At Marie Curie, we understand the value of planning ahead for the death of a loved one.  However, when this isn’t possible, particularly during these uncertain times, it’s important that families living with dementia are properly supported to make difficult decisions and are not left with a legacy of grief and guilt because they’re not sure they made the right choice in a moment of crisis.”

 

Fiona Carragher, Director of Research and Influencing at Alzheimer’s Society said:

“Alzheimer’s Society are proud to unite with Marie Curie to support this urgently needed research. Covid-19 has severely affected people with dementia and their carers, and our Dementia Connect support line has been flooded with thousands of calls for help. This new, evidence-based guide will help carers and people living with dementia feel informed and supported, practically and emotionally, when making important decisions about care during the pandemic including hospitalisation, treatment and Do Not Attempt CPR.

 

“We know that the current crisis is making choices like these even more difficult which is why it’s so important Alzheimer’s Society researchers use their expertise to support people through this.”

“You, me and the Big D”: Changing attitudes to dementia in Whiteley Village through participatory research

rmjlmcd18 September 2019

In this post, Rachael Frost talks about her experience of conducting a participatory research project. 

Whiteley Village is a retirement community in Surrey for people on low incomes. Dating back to 1917, the village provides housing, support and facilities for nearly 500 older people. Managed by the Whiteley Homes Trust, the village can support those with care needs in assisted living or a care home, but there are no dedicated dementia facilities. Despite this, a number of residents are living there with varying degrees of dementia. Although the village has a strong sense of community and residents can be very supportive towards each other, there is a sense that dementia is still stigmatised like cancer used to be (the old “Big C”) and that as a result, residents don’t receive the support they could from each other.

Enter Pauline, Mary, Peggy and Sue – four village residents who wanted to change this. In partnership with Dr Alison Armstrong from the Whiteley Foundation for Ageing Well and myself, we successfully applied for a British Society of Gerontology Averil Osborn Award for Participatory Research at the end of 2018.

(R-L) Me, Mary, Sue, Pauline, Peggy & Alison

 

The “You, Me and the Big D” project was a small research project designed to see whether Alzheimer’s Society Dementia Awareness Training would have a positive impact upon residents’ attitudes and behaviours to people in the village with dementia. Mary, Peggy, Pauline and Sue collected qualitative and questionnaire data from eight participants before and after the training, with qualitative research training and input throughout from Alison and myself.

So did anything change? Before the training, our participants told us that although they knew how to best support someone with dementia, they had plenty of examples from the village where this hadn’t happened. They felt this was due to lack of knowledge, village life (which could be supportive but judgmental), fear and the fact that different people with dementia had very different symptoms. Participants felt there was a need for more village support and wanted more information, particularly about dealing with aggressive behaviour.

 

“One day they might seem perfectly normal to you and the next day they’re not” (Barbara)

 

After the training, our eight participants felt like they had learnt quite a lot about different types of dementia and its other effects (such as on the senses and on balance), but wished to know a lot more than could be covered in three hours. For a couple of participants, it increased the worry about potentially aggressive behaviour from people with dementia. Some participants also reported issues with the training facilitation in that they would have liked to hear more from the speaker than others in the room.

 

“I’ve learned that there are different types of dementia which I hadn’t really considered and … people who have dementia are at different stages” (Camilla)

 

It was a great project to be involved in, although there were some challenges along the way! There was very little time to actually do the project (we received confirmation of the funding in January and had to present results at the British Society of Gerontology conference in July), particularly for training in qualitative interviewing and analysis, and very little budget. Some of the villagers weren’t receptive to the idea of other villagers doing research – with people saying “who do you think you are?” According to the village researchers, confidentiality was also a challenge in such a closed environment, as was having audio-recorders that were not very older person-friendly!

However, the benefits definitely outweighed these. Alison and I had a great time as the village researchers were so enthusiastic. Peggy, Mary, Sue and Pauline looked forward to our meetings and discussions, enjoyed learning and making a difference to the village and said they felt younger as a result. Mary and Sue came along to British Society of Gerontology 2019 conference and co-presented the project with Alison.

Alison and Mary (L) and Sue (R) presenting at the British Society of Gerontology conference

Of course, this was only a very small project. However, the main positive benefit from the Big D has been its wider impact on the village. Whiteley residents have been encouraged to talk about dementia more and dementia care has moved up the agenda with management. One person with dementia has even been able to move back into the village and live back with their spouse with better support. Further projects are being planned to improve dementia support in the village, so watch this space…

 

Conference dinner selfie!