I’m delighted to have been asked to contribute an update to the Dghealth blog.
This year has got off to a busy start for me with the launch by all of the four UK CMOs of the consultation on alcohol guidelines for lower-risk drinking, and my first annual report as Chief Medical Officer for Scotland, calling for a debate on Realistic Medicine.
The guidelines advise men and women not to regularly drink more than 14 units a week, spread drinking over three days or more if you drink as much as 14 units a week and if you want to cut down how much you’re drinking. A good way to help achieve this is to have several drink-free days each week. It can be a bit tricky to understand and remember how much alcohol is in drinks, and how this can affect our health. The low risk guidelines can help with this, if you choose to drink. No-one can say that drinking alcohol is absolutely safe, but by sticking within these guidelines, you can lower your risk of harming your health if you drink most weeks. I was pleased that the new guidance also takes account of the harmful effects of binge-drinking, and brings the rest of the UK into line with Scotland by advising women not to drink any alcohol during pregnancy.
One of the ways I try to be accessible is via my blog and Twitter feed – it was interesting to see the comments on twitter around the alcohol guideline launch, ranging from welcoming to “killjoy”. Change is always going to cause a reaction – but since the guidelines are in response to evidence of the risk of alcohol causing cancer the UK CMOs have to get our message across, however difficult that may be, so people can them make their own informed choices.
The reaction to my annual report on Realistic Medicine has been more universally positive, in the media and through feedback on twitter and my blog. The report contains the traditional publication of “health of the nation” issues examining a range of population health surveillance data and outbreaks of disease etc but the key theme is ‘Realistic Medicine’ and what this can mean for the challenges that face doctors as a profession and in healthcare. I launched the report at the Western General Hospital in Edinburgh with Dave Caesar, Consultant in Emergency Medicine, NHS Lothian and Dr Caroline Whitworth, Renal Consultant, Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh.
I followed this up with a discussion about the questions I raise in the report with a group of about 20 doctors from NHS Lothian. This is the beginning of engagement I want to undertake across Scotland to hear views of doctors who are well placed to come up with the answers to how we improve shared decision-making; ensure we deliver person-centred care; reduce unnecessary variation in treatment and outcomes; as well as reduce harm and waste (including over-treatment) for the people doctors treat. My team produced a very helpful infographic setting out these questions and we have a range of materials for anyone in the profession who wants to discuss this among themselves and feedback to me via the clinician survey.
I would welcome feedback from everyone on the report so l can use it to inform health policy. My role and that of my team consisting of the Deputy Chief Medical Officer, Dr Gregor Smith and senior medical officers and speciality advisers is to provide the clinical voice in decision-making. As healthcare professionals we have useful knowledge and expertise to guide policy and our input is vital. I would welcome your input to help us to carry out that role effectively. I can be reached in a number of ways:
Twitter: @CathCalderwood1 [https://twitter.com/CathCalderwood1]