Acute hospital wards often stuggle with psychiatric problems. Medical and surgical colleagues frequently refer patients with depression who are miserable but not clincially depressed and are not ill. I used to think it odd, doctors (who all trained in some psychiatry as undergraduates) can't usually suss out if someone's ill or not.
I used to think that colleagues should be able to undertake a decent history, examination, ask about informant/contextual history and put together some sort of formulation. Partly through training, partly through prejudice, partly through not being their core business/not routine, and mostly because working on acute wards is now described as beyond grim, even competent colleagues with a will to do so struggle to make sense of psychiatric dimensions to their medical/surgical patients.
If history, assessment and formulation aren't undertaken in a systematic, thoughtful, involved manner then how can care planning be person centred and be effective? Largely it can't.
This generates more difficulties because the culture forced on clinicians through current pressures precludes better ways of working. Nurses know that is someone is wandering around or shouting or pulling drips out or pushing buttons on other patients' syringe drivers that usually drugs makes it worse.
Of course they do. We have no "anti wandering" or "anti shouting" or "anti fiddling" drugs, those are behaviours they're not illnesses. What's sought is abolishing symptoms, without attending to the primary cause of these presentations.
It's ingrained, though, so nursing staff are disempowered/under resourced in managing one to one patient care, call medical staff since it's unsafe and problematic, medics feel they can't do anything but prescribe. What do they prescribe? Usually they prescribe the drugs that don't work/make it worse. If used correctly, as well as usually doing little beneficial and lots that's harmful, the appropriate use of the drug also needs extensive ECG and blood monitoring that ties up even more nursing time, which could otherwise have been used in direct patient care to manage the behavioural disturbance.
There's a bit of an inconsistency, though. On the one hand the acute hospitals generally want a chemical solution, and nothing else, to manage behavioural disturbance. On the other hand, their care pathways for this are very different from most any other care pathway they'd generate.
The Dobbing Doctor explained his hospital has a "Rapid Tranquillisation Protocol" and asked what drug would be better.
A protocol on the administration of a drug to treat a behaviour. Is there an "Inhaled Breathing Protocol" giving the procedure for nebulised n-saline in obstructive airways disease or RSV/croup and the like? Is there a "Bolus Steroid Protocol" for injection of steroids in COPD? No, there's no "Bolus Steroid" protocol but there is a "Rapid Tranquillisation" protocol. Why? Why have a protocol for one class of drugs, major tranquillisers, but for most every other protocol it's about the disease state/care pathway? They have Stroke Pathways, COPD pathways, MI pathways but no delirium/acute confusional state pathway. Instead there's a drug protocol for "rapid tranquillisation."
This is less than ideal since we know medication has a tiny role to play, so if it's the only role your hospital offers in such patients' care then, frankly, patients aren't going to get the right care. Last September's update on National Dementia Strategy outcomes and Banerjee's Time for Action report reiterate the best practice guidance that non-pharmacological approaches must be tried first.
The reality is, they work.
I work with older adults. All my in-patients are ill, with major mental health problems. Almost all of them have physical comorbidity too, such as infections, contributing to their acute deterioration necessitating hospital in-patient care. Most are pretty elderly and pretty frail. Despite being confused, ill, unsettled and presenting with challenging behaviour, use of medication is modest. My last patient with hypomanic features arising through stroke damage was managed and discharged on no psychiatric medication. I've never used our equivallent of the "Rapid Tranquillisation" policy on any of my in-patients patients, ever.
If the frail, elderly, ill, most mentally and behaviourally challening in-patients can be managed with little/no psychiatric medication, it suggests that less mentally ill patients within acute hospitals also should be manegeable without drugs. Which is what best practice guidance, Royal Colleges, patient advocate groups and DoH reports say.
The crunch, of course, is that the environment and nursing ratios need to be fit for purpose. Nurse Anne reckons, ". . . that years of intense research have shown that the maximum number even the best nurse can take and not make mistakes is 4-6 on a general floor." She described how when things went well, "I worked a late shift on a 25 bed ward and there was 4 of us staff nurses and 2 care assistants for the ward." Our wards do have such staffing levels, with one qualified nurse per 4 to 6 patients, plus support workers, plus ward physio time and OT time and ward social worker time.
Rationally, if they're not psychotic, or having abnormal dopamine excess needing pharmacological treatment, why is an antipsychotic indicated?
The right environment and the right staffing obviates the need for antipsychotic medication, most of the time. I reckon that's one for the Ghost of Christmas Future to sort out . . .