Thursday, 26 April 2012

Demanding consultant delivered acute care

Who should deal with the most urgent and severe emergencies?

The following runs in every healthcare worker's mind but we usually do nothing about this. Let me describe it.

First time elective referrals at out patients for major conditions gets seen usually by consultants
First time elective major operations usually done by consultants (especially the major ones)

Redo operations after complications due to first time elective surgery - quite often done by registrars or 'middle grades'
First time major emergencies in Resuscitation rooms and dire post operative emergencies in wards and ICUs are usually dealt with by registrars or 'middle grades'

Is that logical? Is that sensible?

Of course in some specialties like vascular, neonatal and a few other, the senior most persons often deal with the most dire things but I am talking about most specialties. For instance in internal medicine an elective referral for a chronic cough or chest pain will normally be seen by a consultant but a severe acid base imbalance, a pneumothorax, undiagnosed sepsis will be first seen often by very junior doctors fresh out of medical school or if the patient was extremely lucky by a registrar or middle grade.

This anomaly should be addressed. But it will not be easy to address. Clinical severity of the condition and clinical severity of any potential adverse outcomes should decide who will see/treat the patient and not mere availability, convenience, historical residual legacies and other administrative/managerial issues. This will demand consultant delivered care (not consultant 'led' care). People will rightly be concerned about the cost; it would be important to recognise that the improvement in clinical quality and the enhanced clinical accountability for outcomes could result in lower overall costs. If on the other hand there was a clear increase in quality the richer economies should accept that as the new benchmark for cost.

Success in Healthcare will depend on the proper utilisation of its very valuable human resource; the utilisation of the human resource should be exclusively based on clinical need - more severe the presenting situation - the more senior should be the primary attending human resource.

Here is where patients could play a part in improving the quality for themselves and in shifting the culture within healthcare. Patients and families could use the consent process to influence better care. Consent is a legal requirement before professionals can provide care hence any caveats in that legal process carries significant weight. Patients and families may or may not be able to define what should be done but they can define what cannot be done; for instance you cannot say you have to be given a blood transfusion but you can say that you should not be given a blood transfusion.  In the same manner I think patients probably cannot demand that only a fully trained healthcare profession should treat them but can possibly decline to accept care from anyone who is not fully trained without them being directly supervised.

For instance my living will or perhaps my consent to treatment form could say 'I, having worked hard and paid my taxes, when I am ill, expect to be treated and cared for at every stage by fully trained clinical staff; if that does not happen I will take it as having possibly received substandard care. Being a responsible citizen and supporter of NHS I am aware of the need for trainees to learn so that future specialists can be created; I will allow trainees to care for me at any time as long as their trainer is physically present and actively training the trainee in a hands-on manner. If the trainer is not physically present and actively involved (for instance if it is a surgical operation the trainer must be scrubbed up and assisting the trainee) I shall consider it as a breach of my right to have received the highest quality of healthcare that I expect and a breach of the consent that I have provided' (** Caution: Using aforesaid statement is likely to negatively affect your healthcare and risk an adverse outcome. The statement is used to make a point and not necessarily for practical use**)

It is patients' choice, let us take it seriously. If you thought this was a bit too assertive - pause for a few seconds and reflect on the day when my above sentences will be cut and pasted by every patient on to their consents and living wills. Or even better, pause and think of what you would want for your child, spouse or parent when they are facing the most dire emergency circumstances of their life perhaps after something that had already gone wrong. Would you want someone who has left medical school recently (though they are very good trainees and keen to learn) or someone for whom you have already paid upwards of £1million to become fully trained and employed to care for you, when you are facing a potentially resolvable life threatening condition? I rest my case.


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