‘Docere’ by Sonia Cherian

The word ‘Doctor’ is the agentive noun of the Latin verb Docere which means ‘to teach’. The title ‘Doctor’ refers to a person who is recognised to have acquired sufficient knowledge in a subject to be a teacher of that subject. The role of the doctor as a teacher helps educate patients about their condition. A well-informed patient is crucial to the success of any treatment plan. In an era of increasing demands on the healthcare system coupled with  changing patient expectations, the doctor’s role as a teacher has a unique significance.

The supreme court ruling in the Montgomery case (Montgomery v Lanarkshire Health Board, 2015) was a watershed moment from a medicolegal perspective. Mrs Montgomery, a small built diabetic patient had complications during a vaginal delivery which resulted in her son being born with severe disabilities. The case hinged on whether the health board had provided her with all the information which could have helped her make a decision between a normal delivery or a caesarean section. Her obstetrician felt that the risks of shoulder dystocia during normal labour was not significant enough to discuss with her thinking that this information may have resulted in the patient choosing a caesarean section which had its own risks. The supreme court felt that had the risks been explained fully to the patient, she would have opted for a caesarean section and the baby would have been born unharmed. This ruling established that a patient should be told whatever they want to know, not what the doctor thinks they should be told. Mrs Montgomery was awarded a compensation of £5.25 million and the ruling fundamentally changed the law on decision making with the transition from ‘medical paternalism’ to ‘patient autonomy’. The ruling makes it clear that any intervention must be based on a shared decision-making process ensuring the patient is aware of all options and supported in making an informed choice by their healthcare professional.

The General Medical Council (GMC) document on Good medical practice advises to work in partnership with patients:

  • You must listen to patients, take account of their views, and respond honestly to their questions.
  • You must give patients the information they want or need to know in a way they can understand. You should make sure that arrangements are made, wherever possible, to meet patients’ language and communication needs.
  • You must be considerate to those close to the patient and be sensitive and responsive in giving them information and support.


The Realistic Medicine agenda led by the Chief Medical Officer (CMO) of Scotland makes shared decision making and a personalised approach to care its key themes. (https://www.gov.scot/publications/practising-realistic-medicine/)

‘The King’s Fund’ research recommends that patients should be given a chance to take an active role in decisions about their care and treatment by providing the right opportunities, information and support. Services should reflect the needs of patients by meaningfully involving patients and carers in service commissioning, planning, design and improvement. (https://www.kingsfund.org.uk/publications/shared-responsibility-health)

An informed patient can positively contribute to decision making regarding a personalised approach to his or her treatment. This would also mean that patients are more open to share the responsibility of these decisions and be prepared to live with the consequences of their choices thus reducing the risk of complaints and litigation. Patient decisions are not only influenced by medical considerations but also by non-clinical issues which are of relevance to that individual patient. Values, beliefs and life experiences that have a personal significance can influence choices. Our role as clinicians is to support the patient in the decision-making process by providing expert medical advice through a dialogue. Unlike emergency situations where decisions have to be made quickly to save the life or limb of a patient, the vast majority of treatment decisions are taken in primary care or in an elective setting in secondary care. Many conditions have a variety of treatment options, each with its own benefits and risks. In some situations, having ‘no treatment’ is also a reasonable option.

Many patients are well-researched about their condition having read various articles on ‘Google search’. However, for a non-medical lay person to comprehend the vast, often confusing and sometimes contradictory online information can be challenging. This may leave patients with incomplete and out of context information. Hence the information that the patient could assimilate online is quite different from the knowledge that he or she needs to make personalised treatment choices. The clinician has the unique role as a teacher to help transform the information the patient has into knowledge whereby safe personal choices on treatment could be made.

Discussion regarding the various methods of Patient education is a topic on its own and is beyond the scope of this blog. Though innovative ways to deliver succinct information using digital media seems to be the way forward, these would never replace the warmth and compassion of a caring competent clinician who would help patients make the right balanced choices. This would only be possible with the provision of time and resources to improve meaningful information sharing during consultations.

The CMO’s annual report (2016-17) acknowledges that the main barrier to healthcare professionals having more in-depth discussions with patients is the issue of time. “Simply offering the standard treatment or investigation may be quicker, but not necessarily what is in the patients’ individual best interests. It is essential that in order to provide high quality, personalised care clinicians are in a position to make the time to have these important discussions. If we are able to move towards engaging in these conversations as a part of routine practice, it is likely this will in some circumstances save time where patients decide against investigations or treatments that they do not feel are right for them.”

The second Citizens’ Panel Survey (August 2017) revealed that the behaviour/style of the doctor and how busy they are (or are perceived to be) had an impact on patients’ inclination to ask questions. The current legal and regulatory requirements make it the responsibility of the clinician to provide adequate time to the patient so that they are well informed prior to making a decision.  However, the Scottish Public Service Ombudsman (SPSO) has commented in the CMO’s Annual report (2016-17) that this responsibility is not that of the clinician alone. This process would require policy changes within the organisation and a change in culture that encourages and fosters patient centric multi-disciplinary team working.

The GMC guidance, the Supreme court ruling, the concepts of Shared decision-making, Patient centric care and Realistic medicine all point to the pivotal role of patient education  thus highlighting the importance of what it truly means to be a doctor : ‘A Teacher !’

Therefore, let us all remember to teach before we treat !’ and support each other in patient education with the ultimate aim of delivering holistic patient care.


Dr. Sonia Cherian is a GP at NHS Dumfries and Galloway as well as a GP Appraiser and CPD Adviser at NHS Education for Scotland

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Tour de Finance by Jeff Ace

This summer, unlike the many thousands of fellow Welsh folk heading south to France for one of our regular appearances in a major football tournament, I decided to head west, then east, then sort of north east. Together with our Finance Director, Katy Lewis, I recently undertook a tour of the region to try to talk directly to as many staff as possible about the challenges we were facing and to hear first hand their experiences and ideas for improvement.

In three days we travelled over 400 miles, met over 400 staff and heard from nurses, AHPs, domestics, GPs, consultants and others on issues ranging as wide as the region itself. At a number of the meetings, it was great to see social work staff in attendance, reflecting our ever closer working relationships.


I asked Katy to open each session with a presentation on the financial situation – my thinking being that pretty much anything I then said would come as light relief. The 2016/17 numbers are grim and substantially worse than anything we’ve faced up until now. In summary, we estimate our costs will increase by around £16.5M in the year (largely driven by drug cost increases and pay / price inflation) whilst the increase in our allocation for health services is around £3.6M. The gap between these figures of about £13M (or 5%ish of our running costs) will have to be found from efficiency savings. This would be a tough ask at the best of times but, as most of you will be well aware, it comes after four years of delivering large annual efficiency savings targets.
And of course the financial problem does not sit in isolation. In each of the discussions across the region we heard of pressures caused by difficulties in attracting staff or by increased service demand driven by an ageing population. At times it felt as though we were describing a perfect storm of crises in money, recruitment and demography that threatened to overwhelm us as surely as Storm Frank had submerged parts of Dumfries.


But just as the pub in this picture was open for business only two days later (it felt longer), things often brightened up pretty quickly in a lot of our discussions. The staff that we met were keen to highlight potential solutions, things that could change services for the better and stand up to our triple challenge.
We’re going to write up the key points raised and create a plan for delivery but some of the common themes were;

  • The right I.T. can transform the way teams work, but we need to make it connect faster and more reliably across the region.
  • We need to get far better at sharing appropriate information between health, social work and third sector colleagues.
  • We need to be quicker at admitting that some vacancies won’t be filled and to redesign and retrain teams to provide services differently.
  • Local teams need to be empowered to make locally appropriate decisions and as much resource as possible needs to be devolved to operational levels.
  • Coordinated support to teams around improvement techniques and methodologies would be helpful.
  • We need to work more closely with carers and families.
  • We need to celebrate team successes and better spread their ideas and learning.

It’s also important to remember that we’re not on our own in trying to work our way through the financial, demographic and recruitment problems. In our meetings we highlighted some of the huge amount of work ongoing at national and regional level at the moment to try to identify high quality and more sustainable models of service delivery across Scotland. Two particular strands of work have the potential to help us transform the landscape;

  • The National Clinical Strategy (written by Angus Cameron, our Medical Director) sets out a clear direction for closer working between Health Boards aimed at improving safety and effectiveness of care within their wider region.
  • The Chief Medical Officer’s work on ‘Realistic Medicine’ points to how genuinely person centred care can lead to better patent outcomes whilst reducing waste and unnecessary expenditure.

So, both locally and nationally, there are grounds for cautious optimism that we can come through these uniquely challenging times in a way that allows our teams to continue to deliver excellent health and care services for our population. It is clear though that to succeed in this, the pace of change around redesign of service models and ways of working will have to be dramatic. Whilst there’ll be a few giant leaps (it’s just over a year until we receive the keys to our new acute hospital…) most of this change will be smaller scale and driven by the local teams that we talked with on our regional tour. Our success will depend on how well we support these teams and ensure they have the skills and confidence to adapt their services in ways that allow us to deal with the financial, demographic and recruitment complexities.
Thanks to everyone who came along to speak to us on our tour.

Jeff Ace is the Chief Executive Officer for NHS Dumfries and Galloway

A Message from the CMO @CathCalderwood1

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.

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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.

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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: 


Email: cmo@gov.scot

Twitter: @CathCalderwood1 [https://twitter.com/CathCalderwood1]

Blog: http://blogs.scotland.gov.uk/cmo

CMO on LinkedIN