Monday, 11 April 2011

Care Pathways

I've been throwing in my 2p worth to discussions 'bout how care pathways could be constructed. I was invited on whim. Folk thought I may know what was happening, what best practice guidance is and what could work. All that is true. They also thought that the discussions could then generate a care pathway so patients could receive services according to their oft repeated mantra of, "the right care, in the right place, at the right time, by the right person."


One small example was that of vascular dementia. People have poor blood supply to the brain, as time ticks by. In the UK, furring up of the arteries starts at an early age (with post mortem studies of road traffic accidents finding atheroma in children as young as 11 years old) so it's no surprise that decades on with common conditions such as hypertension and diabetes that, in the UK context of atheroma/shabby cardiovascular health, we've an older adult population that has shabby blood supply to the brain.

Chronic (long term) ischaemic changes emerge, with consequent changes in brain function. Or a furred blood vessel makes lots of blood clots (the high pressure as blood squeezes through a furred up narrow tube causes cracks on the furred atheromatous plaque, which causes lots of blood clotting to happen, these blood clots then whiz off and cause strokes). Acute (short term, immediate) ischaemic changes emerge, with changes in brain function.

The top and bottom of it is that folk have small or large strokes, gradually or suddenly. Unlike strokes causing slurred speech or muscle weakness, the strokes are in other bits of the brain and can cause memory problems, mood problems, changed personality, confusion and difficulty in making decisions. Vascular dementia.

Who is the expert at dealing with vascular damage? Maybe it's a neurologist Consultant, with expertise in strokes. Maybe it's a Consultant physician, with expertise in cholesterol levels, blood pressure, anticoagulation and managing hypertension/diabetes etc. Vascular Surgeons have a role in de-furring blood vessels (with carotid endarterectomy and the like) but rarely seem to coordinate vascular care more broadly. I think GPs with their context, longditudinal knowledge of their patient, broad understanding and consideration of multifactorial elements and most usefully their application of common sense not protocol/commissioned activities, GPs could have a key role to play (but locally a vocal vociferous few don't want to be involved at all, so none will be). A Consultant Psychiatrist arguably has a modest role in this; if you've had a stroke, nobody seems to think the right care pathway is refer to mental health services who ask you how you feel about it.

Locally most people with memory changes come to psychiatry. It may scream vascular damage, CT scans may evidence vascular damage and no atrophy, it still comes to my door.

Our commissioners chide me for seeing vascular patients, it's the responsibility of the acute Trust they claim, they're paid to do this work. Seeing the wrong patients means I can't do the work and see the patients the commissioners want me to.

Can all my GPs take a referral where there's a history of memory changes, assess whether it's clinically significant or not, exclude delirium, exclude mood disorder/physical health problems/medication impacting upon cognition, assess cognition to formally diagnose dementia and then determine the dementia subtype, to then refer neurodegenerative dementias to me and vascular dementias to the acute Trust? With the best will in the world, no, they're not all in a position to progress assessment, diagnosis and subtyping to then refer appropriately.

The commissioners found this frustrating news to hear. Too much truth. The "challenges" were too real.

Time passed. Nothing's changed. We still have no explicit (let alone resourced) dementia care pathway in our locality for these patients. It doesn't really matter, they all come to our service and get the right assessment and advice. It's frustrating we get chided for this, though. And we've no resources for this. With NHS changes and profit, especially when making a profit by healthcare organisations is legally required and they can be up on charges if they don't use all means to do so, whether patient care will still be a priority that well meaning organisations (that aren't funded or required to deliver on) still helpfully do is a more salient concern . . .

No comments: