Outpatient Parenteral Antimicrobial Therapy (OPAT) – from Cellulitis to Meningioma by Audrey Morris and Shirley Buchan

OPAT as a service has been in use in many countries for the last 30 years. It is a method of delivering intra-venous antimicrobial therapy in an outpatient setting, as an alternative to remaining an inpatient.

Preparation of a typhoid shot in the medical clinicThe advantages of providing this service for the patient means that they have a reduced hospital stay and can return home and rehabilitate in their own environment. In certain cases the patient can continue to work whilst receiving IV antimicrobial therapy therefore causing them minimal disruption to their daily life. Psychologically the patient feels happier, eats better, sleeps better and is more likely to recover quicker in their own home.

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In DGRI the service started in 2012 under the “What if?” project. Its main aim at this point was treatment of non-complicated cellulitis leading to the reduction of patient admissions for short term IV antimicrobials. In the intervening years we have developed to become more involved with complicated infections requiring longer lengths of treatment i.e. up to 12 weeks of IV antimicrobials, but the patient is otherwise fit enough return home.

 
From January 2016 to the end of March 2017 we have released 1419 beds, an average of 3.2 per day. We have treated patients with Cellulitis, Osteomyelitis, Infected Joint Replacements, ESBL, UTI’s, Pseudomonas, Osteoradionecrosis, Lyme disease, Endocarditis, Discitis, Peripheral Vascular Disease, Actinomycosis, SAB, Urosepsis, E-Coli ESBL and Meningioma.

 

Why do we need OPAT?

 
In December 2015 a 30 year old man, who we will call John, was referred to us. He is a high functioning gentleman with Spina bifida who regularly competes in Shot Putt events, all over the World. He had been admitted 6 weeks previously with an infection of his hip. He was clinically improving and ready for home. His family were also keen for his discharge. On discharge John was keen to return to weekly training but due the nature of his infection this had to be put on hold. He attended the clinic daily for 12 weeks either at Dumfries or nearer his home at Castle Douglas Community Hospital, even attending on Christmas day. John had a Hickman line in-site and he decided that in order to assist us he would dress according to which lumen we were using, red top red lumen white top white lumen. He made a good recovery and was discharged from us a year ago. John still phones us now and again and had informed us he is back to full fitness, competing again and even throwing further than before. His one regret he told us, was that due to illness he was not selected for last year’s Paralympics but he is working hard to go the next event in 2020.
So why do we need OPAT? To give people like John an effective patient-focused service as good as inpatient care in an out-patient environment. Our aim is to provide patient centred care nearer to home. In some cases we train the patient or their relative/carer to administer IV antimicrobials in their own home, leading to increased independence and putting the patient at the centre of their own care.

 
Main aims of OPAT.

 
Clinical
To provide a high quality efficient clinical service using robust pathways, guidelines and protocols.
Reduce inpatient time and therefore reduce the risk of hospital acquired infections.
Develop the service to meet the changing demands on an overstretched service. With the opening of the new hospital imminent and the call for care nearer to home OPAT can help reduce demands on beds.
Patient.
image3Improved quality of life for patients. They eat better, sleep better and generally feel better in the own home environment.
Increase patient involvement in delivery of care, continuity of care and communication.
Provide ongoing support at home and utilise a pathway for re-admission if required.
Organisational.
Reduce the length of inpatient stays therefore utilising acute beds more efficiently.
Structured pathway from referral to discharge.
Staff development.

Patient journey from Inpatient to OPAT patient.

 
We aim to make the transition from inpatient to OPAT patient as quick and painless as possible but have to follow guidelines. Once a patient has been identified by their Consultant as a potential OPAT patient the first step is to complete an SBAR referral form (In Beacon use ‘search for document’ option). On receipt of this we visit the patient to assess them and their needs for OPAT. There are certain criteria which must be met but these are listed on our SBAR referral form and should be considered prior to referral.
The patient is then seen by our Consultant and the OPAT nurse team. If they are suitable and want to become an OPAT patient then the discharge process can begin.
So in summary OPAT provides patient centred care led by a small dedicated team. It clearly reduces the length of inpatient stays, which can be from 2 days to 12 weeks. Patients are very much involved in the method of delivery of their care, they can opt to be trained to do it themselves at home or we try to deliver care as near to their home as possible. We work around their commitments e.g. an elderly patient who has carers in the morning can get a later appointment or in the case of the patient who continues to work we can see them early in the morning to allow then to get to work. Patients feel better at home, they sleep better, eat better and psychologically feel better. They are more in control of their treatment and have continuity of care.

In the words of one of our patients we “made a bad situation better”.

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Audrey Morris & Shirley Buchan are Clinical Nurse Specialists in the OPAT team.

The QI Hub by Wendy Chambers

 

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Wednesday 19th of April – Marks the official launch of The Quality Improvement Hub for Dumfries and Galloway

Our vision: To support health and social care staff to design and deliver services that better meet the changing needs and aspirations of people, families and communities that access care.

The purpose: Quality is everyone’s responsibility. We aim to build a culture where continuous improvement is the norm and develop a network to share resources, learn and work together, to make it easier to do the right thing at the right time, every time.

Wendy C 2The QI Hub is a creative space where you can connect with others throughout health & social care, people with a passion to make a difference. Thinking space, away from the hustle & bustle that is daily life!! Come and find a supportive network of colleagues, share experiences and learning. Choose from a library of resources and practical tools to help structure your improvement projects and explore development and coaching opportunities.

Wendy C 3Building capability and capacity to lead improvement is vital, it empowers people and teams to own change; one resource available is a locally delivered Scottish Improvement Skills Programme. To illustrate how this is already having impact Wendy Chambers, who has recently graduated from Cohort 1, shares her reflections.

3 lessons from Scottish Improvement Skills (SIS) in D&G

Having recently completed cohort 1 of the SIS course in Dumfries, with a project that hasn’t gone quite according to plan, I thought I’d share 3 things I’ve learned along the way.

Lesson 1 – I’m not alone

I’ve always been comfortable questioning my own clinical practice; to be honest I ask “why” and “how” about most things in life; it drives my other half, and now as a parent I can appreciate must have driven my parents, mad! For me though questioning things is a reason why I get out of bed in the morning and keeps my job interesting and challenging. But in my 20 plus years of clinical practice, in many different settings, I’m acutely aware that not everyone thinks as I do…. then came SIS.

I walked into a room, filled with 30 other people, on the first day of the course and I felt like I had arrived, I’d come home! These were my people, this was my tribe – we spoke the same language, had the same fire in our bellies and were comfortable with the “what if …” questions!

Wendy C 4Being surrounded by similar and like minded people; learning from each other, sharing ideas, both the things that go well and the things that fail – I’ve come to appreciate that this support is essential to the process of implementing and testing change ideas. Because when I go back out into the real world, with all its pressures and realities, the natives won’t necessarily be as welcoming or receptive to my “bright ideas” and things won’t feel as cosy.  So now I won’t be alone, I’ve found my tribe, I’ve found support.

Lesson 2 – “Whose project is it anyway?”

The SIS course has given me an opportunity to consider and reflect on the process of implementing a change idea from conception through, in theory, to completion. And one of the fundamental pieces of learning for me has been – it’s all about the relationships; the people who I need to work with and who need to work together cohesively, in order to try things out.

None of us like, or take kindly, to being told what to do, regardless of how much positive evidence there may be that it’s the right thing to do. We all like to feel and be in control of our own destiny and decisions, try things out and discover for ourselves – and I’m no different from anyone else, in fact I’m possibly worse!

A change project idea that one person has come up with is exactly that – it’s their idea, their project.  It doesn’t, at that point, belong to the team for whom it is intended will be the “willing” guinea pigs to trial and develop the ideas. At that point it is “my project, not yours” and “your project, not mine”.

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I’ve had the opportunity to reflect on my current and also previous projects, consider and question when I’ve done this well and a team has taken on board an idea and really owned it and made it their own and when it has most definitely remained my idea and no one else has bought in.
And my reflections go back to the relationships and the time that I have spent in this part of the process as a whole. And I realise that the time spent in the planning, alongside and with the others who will be involved and affected by the change idea is essential to the process, not the icing on the cake.

This isn’t new, or rocket science, any leadership book or workshop will include this – but we rarely have the luxury of “thinking space” to reflect on our learning.  And having a space, such as the SIS course, where failure is seen as valuable a part of learning as success has been enlightening, reassuring – it feels like home.

Lesson 3 – Skills

Apart from the thinking and reflection space the SIS course has also given me an opportunity to learn some real, practical skills and to relearn some old ones. I feel as if I now have a working toolbox of things which I can use and try out next time around, and every time around, when my next bright idea pops up.  I also have access to a whole tribe of people who can help me when I get stuck – which I will.

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Old dogs, New tricks, nothing new under the sun.

But in the current health and social care climate things have never felt so uncertain, it’s all about change and innovation. We are all being expected to get comfortable in a world which is full of discomfort and will be constantly shifting. In this world my learning and reflection would be – get skilled, take time building relationships, find your tribe!

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Wendy Chambers is  a Mental Health Occupational Therapist and AHP Practice Education Lead at NHS Dumfries and Galloway

The QI Hub is for you and your team and you’re invited to actively contribute. Your ideas, knowledge and experiences are crucial to ensure the hub provides what you want!

Join us on Wednesday 19th April 2017, Conference Room, Crichton Hall. Programme and registration available by contacting Stevie.johnstone@nhs.net

QI Hub Development Team

Let’s insist on the possible by Valerie Douglas

Many things in life are complicated, require great debate and despite huge resources are not guaranteed to be successful in practice. There are other things which are simple to understand, can easily be implemented and immediately make a difference to improve lives or in some cases save lives. You only have to think of the meaningful campaign to change the care of people with a diagnosis of dementia led by Tommy Whitelaw (Tommy Whitelaw @tommyNTour). It makes sense and it hits you in the heart. As a professional you cannot listen to Tommy talk about caring for his mum and withhold your support for this campaign. His mum is your mum.

Another example is Kate Grainger’s inspirational campaign (#hellomynameis). This focuses right in on the doctor/patient relationship. It goes further than just making us think more about face to face contact with patients who may feel vulnerable, distressed and in alien surroundings. It asks us to look at our practice on a basic level, to say our name aloud, on every contact. At one point this patient was Kate Grainger but the patient could be any one of us.

Last November an important, widely supported campaign for the mandatory teaching of Cardiopulminory Resuscitation (CPR) to schoolchildren was unsuccessful. This Emergency Bill was opposed despite irrefutable evidence that it saves lives. In Norway it has been compulsory for schoolchildren to be taught CPR since 1961 and survival rates are double what they are in the UK. As out-of-hospital cardiac arrest is the commonest life-threatening emergency in the UK so I thought this campaign was bound to be fully supported and unchallenged. You can imagine my disappointment.

I felt at a loss about what to do next, yet felt there had to be a ‘next’. To increase survival rates of cardiac arrest the immediate action of bystanders is crucial. Personally I have carried out CPR three times, twice in a hospital setting and once at a family event. A day of laughter and pleasure turned into tragedy. Event though, as a nurse, I’m aware that the outcome from CPR is variable for a myriad of reasons, I was left affected by this last experience. Then a doctor said to me, “If I had a cardiac arrest I would want someone to have a go.” I am glad I have been taught CPR and am able to ‘have a go’, otherwise the most I could have done that night would have been to phone an ambulance instead of giving a friend a chance of life.

What could I do now? I decided to put together a resolution to RCN Congress 2016 calling on governments to mandate the teaching of CPR to schoolchildren (the remit of the Emergency Bill had been wider, encompassing all kinds of First Aid). The resolution was accepted and I presented this in June this year.

There were wide ranging contributions to the debate. Personal stories were shared about children delivering CPR successfully. A delegate told us about a situation where his 27 year old teammate collapsed during a game of football. 23 players including the referee were there and nobody knew how to do CPR; this man died. He went on to describe a more recent experience when an instructor was brought in to teach CPR to the junior football team. Within 10 minutes they were doing it perfectly.
Some delegates expressed concern about the effect on children if they delivered CPR and it was unsuccessful. Others answered this by saying: remove the fear, teach them young. The evidence is there. Someone else highlighted again that encouraging CPR lessons in schools as an add option is not enough; teaching needs to be a requirement so that there is no national disparity. Kate Ashton made a very acute observation at Congress:
“If we can educate youngsters in schools about sex education and creating life then surely we can educate them about saving lives.”

Every year an estimated 60 000 out of hospital cardiac arrests occur in the UK (BMJ 2013;347:f4800) It could happen to any one of us. What can you do?
Write to your local MP and express your support for the campaign to mandate teaching of CPR.
Become a local First Responder.
Find out if your town/village has a defibrillator and where it is kept.
Ask your school if the teaching of CPR is on the curriculum.
Let’s insist on the possible.

Valerie Douglas is a Staff Nurse in Mental Health at Midpark Hospital, NHS Dumfries and Galloway

Under Pressure…… by @fionacgreen

In November 2013 “Dave” was admitted to hospital following a hip fracture. Dave didn’t always like the food choices and at times found it difficult to drink enough. Several days into his admission his wife noticed a blister on his heel- she mentioned it to the ward team but felt she was dismissed.

By the time of his discharge from hospital Dave had an established ulcer that required regular input from the community nursing team and podiatry.

In June 2014 Dave was admitted to hospital again. The fact that he had already one pressure sore, combined with diabetes meant that he was at high risk of developing further pressure sores and this time he left with a further two pressure sores.

Further prolonged admissions followed to treat deep-seated infection of bone resulting from the presence of pressure sores and ultimately surgical debridement and vascular intervention was required to aid the healing process. With each further admission Dave and his wife became increasingly terrified of what might happen and worried that he may leave with further pressure sores. Last year Dave spent his wife’s birthday, Christmas and New Year in hospital and throughout was visited daily by his wife -it is clear from his story the human impact of developing pressure ulcers

Dave and his wife have given their permission to share their story in the hope that we can begin to learn how important it is that we work together to prevent

pressure ulcers

Lesson one -Prevention is better than cure.

Each year 700,000 people in the UK develop pressure ulcers. Each pressure ulcer adds approximately £ 4000 to the cost of care. It has been suggested that 80-95% of pressure ulcers may be avoidable. Sometimes in healthcare as we concentrate our efforts on the complicated and exciting new developments that come our way we can lose sight of the simple things that can make a huge difference to the outcomes for our patients. By paying attention to early detection of risk, encouraging patients to keep as mobile as possible, addressing incontinence appropriately and by improving hydration and nutrition we can make steps to reduce the risk of pressure ulcers developing.

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Preventing Pressure Ulcers- the CPR approach

1 Check and identify problems early– this means that socks, TED stockings, and dressings must be removed to allow the pressure areas to be properly visualised

2 Protect – if pressure areas are at risk encourage regular changes in position, consider a pressure relieving mattress and apply REPOSE heel splints or Sundance Z-flex boots to relieve pressure. These are available locally by ordering through the PECOS system.

3 Refer – it is never too early to refer to the podiatry team if you have concerns

Repose Heel protectors and Sundance Z-Flex protectors

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FG 3FG 4If you want make sure you are skilled in the CPR approach to pressure ulcer prevention you can like me complete a short and practical e-learning module available on the NHS Learnpro site ( you’ll be pleased to see that I passed!)

 

Lesson 2- Improving Patient Experience/reducing harm/ improving financial efficiency

Sadly Dave’s story is one of many but so clearly illustrates that developing a pressure ulcer is an important physical harm that also impacts significantly on the healthcare experience of the patient and their family. Pressure ulcers are not just a huge burden to the patient and their family but also to the NHS and its staff as a consequence of prolonged hospital admissions and ongoing intense community treatment that may be required to heal the pressure ulcer. In Dave’s case listening to his wife’s concerns and making sure that he was eating and drinking well may have helped to prevent the prolonged and costly treatment that followed

Lesson 3 Changing Practice

Over the last few years we have all found ourselves under increasing pressure in the NHS. Some of these pressures relate to our desire to reduce harm, improve our patient’s experience of care, and finally to make financial efficiency savings.

People who come into hospital are also under pressure- they are in a frightening and alien environment and their illness may make it difficult to eat, difficult to maintain hydration and difficult to keep mobile. These factors are all important in the development of pressure ulcers. In Dumfries and Galloway we have begun work to accurately record the numbers of pressure ulcers acquired and we implemented a risk assessment pathway incorporating the elements of the ACTIVE PATIENT CARE bundle, Waterlow score and NATVNS pressure ulcer recording tool on pilot wards. Work is currently ongoing to spread these practices throughout the acute sites and the community

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21st November 2015 marks worldwide STOP PRESSURE ULCER day- Following on from Dr Bell’s blog last week this is one aspiration that we cannot afford to give up on

Dr Fiona Green is a Consultant Physician and Diabetologist and Clinical Lead for Pressure Ulcer workstream

 

 

Hidden eKIS by @kendonaldson

I took a phone call from a patient’s son some months ago. His Dad, Edward, had recently spent 24 hours in our hospital and whilst all members of staff had been kind and helpful he had a few issues he wished to discuss with me. Edward is 83. He had a heart attack 3 weeks ago and has ongoing chest pains. He has Stage 4 Chronic Kidney Disease (about 20% function) and leukaemia. Sadly this last is not amenable to any treatment.

In short Edward has multiple long term conditions and is dying from his leukaemia. He still has a reasonable quality of life and, with his family, has discussed clearly what his wishes for the future are. His GP has entered all of this into his eKIS or Electronic Key Information Summary which can be accessed by all healthcare professionals though the ECS, Electronic care Summary.

eKIS

So when Edward got sudden onset severe chest pain last week the sequence of events was a surprise to him and his family. Paramedics were called and when they arrived they did an ECG. They then proceeded to fax this to the Golden Jubilee Hospital in Glasgow and discuss his case with the team there. All the time they did this Edward’s son was quietly explaining that this was not necessary, his Dad did not want this level of intervention and that this detail was all available on eKIS. The paramedics had not heard of, and were unsure how to access, eKIS. They apologised for this and took Edward to Dumfries. At least he did not have to go to Glasgow!

On arrival on the Emergency Department the same thing happened. Nobody knew what eKIS was and how to access it. I’m afraid this was replicated in the medical assessment unit. The following day, after Edward had been assessed, he was deemed fit for discharge – a blood transfusion had sorted his anaemia and angina. The first the family knew was when Edward phoned them to tell them. “And” he added “I can now drive!” He was delighted as driving is very important to him.

When Edward’s son arrived, a little surprised and anxious, he discovered that the team, who still had not accessed the eKIS, did not know that Edward had had a heart attack 3 weeks prior and hence couldn’t drive, had not contacted the palliative care team (outlined in eKIS on any admission) and had not really thought through his discharge. “Its not very Holistic” was his understated comment to me. It all got sorted and Edward got home (although a little aggrieved that he couldn’t in fact drive) and neither he nor his family wish to complain but they want to understand why eKIS seems to be a mystery to the Scottish Ambulance Service and most of secondary care.

So what is eKIS? If you click here you will get access to a useful ‘FAQs” about eKIS. You can also read Neil Kellys blog “The KIS of Life”, published on the 14th of February 2014, here. Very simply eKIS is an electronic handover. GPs, in consultation with patients and their families, can enter details about DNACPR, treatment escalation and goals and priorities for the future. The idea is to prevent things like unnecessary trips to Glasgow or, if arriving at the ED in a collapsed state, CTs or endoscopies or trips to theatre. Basically it’s an attempt to communicate a patients wishes to all who care for them. Not much use though if no-one looks at it.

Its important for us all to be aware of eKIS. Not just those of us at the front door. If I review a patient in a clinic or on a ward round and we discuss issues about the future and decisions are made then I should communicate this to the GP and ask for it to be included on their eKIS. I confess I am not very good at this but hope that this story will significantly improve my communication efforts. I must also confess that I did not have a password for ECS when I heard this story but I have remedied that.

It’s almost a daily mantra in my life – “it’s all about communication”. So many small (and not so small!) things go wrong because of poor communication. eKIS is an excellent tool aimed at reducing communication errors. Let’s not be like Peter Pan and keep it hidden, let’s use it.

Postscript: Sadly, since writing this blog, Edward has died. He had a number of admissions to hospital following the one outlined above and had similar problems with communication however died peacefully in the Alexandra Unit.

Ken Donaldson is a Consultant Nephrologist and Associate Medical Director at NHS Dumfries and Galloway

Sepsis 6: Are you on Target? by Sian Finlay

Sian 1One of the things I have always liked about Acute Medicine is that it gives me a chance to make a rapid and noticeable impact on a patient’s outcome. Nowhere is this more marked than in patients with severe sepsis. Every year about 100,000 people in the UK are admitted to hospital with sepsis. About 30,000 of these have severe sepsis or septic shock, which carries a mortality of nearly 40%. It is these people where the stakes are highest. If they are recognised early and get some very simple interventions within the first hour, their chances of getting out of hospital alive are hugely increased. One study found that survival falls by 7% for every hour’s delay in antibiotic treatment!   This is where the ‘Sepsis Six’ comes in. It is a set of 6 simple interventions which should be done within an hour of a patient presenting with severe sepsis:

  1. Oxygen to a target of 94-98% saturation (88-92% if risk of CO2 retention)
  2. Blood cultures (and culture any other likely infection source)
  3. Measure lactate
  4. Intravenous fluids (give a 500ml bolus and reassess)
  5. Intravenous antibiotics
  6. Measure urine output (catheter or accurate fluid chart)

Sian 2All of these steps can easily be delivered by junior doctors and nurses, and yet can make a huge difference. So why don’t we do it all the time? One problem seems to be the difficulty in recognising severe sepsis. Patients often don’t arrive with that label, and indeed may have another tag-line attached to them, such as ‘off legs’ or ‘confusion’.   Sometimes the other label doesn’t sound very serious and no-one else seems overly concerned about the patient. Compared to other emergencies such as acute stroke or MI, sepsis can present with a much broader range of symptoms, so diagnosis can be challenging. The only solution is to be vigilant, and to consider sepsis as a possible cause in every patient with an elevated Early Warning Score (MEWS).  

For the last few years, I have been involved with the Scottish Patient Safety Programme (SPSP) work on improving delivery of the sepsis 6. This group consists of nursing and medical staff from key wards, pharmacy, infection control, and SPSP improvement advisors. Initially we focussed on the Emergency Department and Acute Medical Unit, since most patients come into hospital through these routes. We encouraged staff to use our gold ‘Sepsis ICP’ forms for every patient who might have sepsis. The form takes the user through a list of ‘red flag’ signs, which are designed to identify those with severe sepsis. These are the people who need the sepsis 6, and the time for delivering each component of it is recorded on the form and filed in the patient’s notes. Recently we have spread the message to the Galloway Community Hospital in Stranraer and to the medical HDU. Parallel work is ongoing in Obstetrics. Since the project began, the median time to first antibiotic dose in DGRI has fallen to less than one hour, so we know we are on the right track. However there is still much to be done – when I am collecting the data each month, I still see one or two patients who go unrecognised for several hours or only get part of the sepsis 6.

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So what are the next steps?

Firstly we need to raise awareness amongst medical and nursing staff that severe sepsis is a medical emergency. In a world where new doctors can rotate through a department every week, it is often experienced nursing staff who are best placed to take the lead in this, and to flag up the possibility of sepsis to the rest of the team. Next, we need to spread the sepsis work more widely, so we can be confident that a patient will get the same quality of care no matter where or when they become unwell. With this in mind, I would invite anyone who is interested in joining our team or contributing in any way (nursing, medical, or AHP) to get in touch and join our exciting project. And if you don’t have time to do this, but still want to help, just remember that if you encounter a patient with severe sepsis and deliver the sepsis 6 within an hour, you can go home that night knowing you have made a difference. It’s that simple.

If you would like to contribute and join our group please contact the Patient Safety & Improvement Team on dumf-uhb.PatientSafety@nhs.net

Dr Sian Finlay is an Acute Physician and Clinical Director for Medicine at NHS Dumfries and Galloway

 

 

What are you so scared of? by David Christie (@bagheera79)

“Now, what I want you to do is focus on your breathing. Slow big deep breaths, in and out. You’ll think nothing’s happening at first, then you’ll feel the world become a warm, fuzzy place. Maybe imagine yourself somewhere like a hot sunny beach, waves on the shore, warm sun… big deep breaths, in and out…”

I usually say something along these lines as I’m drifting you off to sleep for your operation. The wording and phrasing obviously varies, and to be honest it’s the tone of my voice that’s important. The aim is to create an atmosphere of calm and reassurance. Something to focus on instead of the beeping of the monitor and the plastic smell of the mask, and the thought of what happens next. It sounds daft, but it’s important. People can be terrified, when they come into theatre, truly terrified. 

Some of the reasons for this are obvious – perhaps the reason that you’re having surgery, such as cancer. Or the surgery itself carries risk – such as surgery to major blood vessels, the brain, the heart. But some of the reasons are a little less obvious, I think, and easily forgotten. Imagine you’re coming to theatre. Just getting to that point involves the co-ordinated effort of many, many different teams. Patients need to be referred, seen in clinic and booked for surgery. There’s a need to have pre-operative assessment done for all the medical, nursing, physiotherapy and social needs. A raft of co-ordinated investigations such as blood tests, ECG and more are ordered to make sure that we know enough about you to be able to do it safely. The booking teams need to create lists that need to match with the availability of the surgeon, the waiting time, the urgency of the surgery and the availability of the patient – and possibly that of your carers or relatives. The theatre team needs to know what particular bits of kit are needed and to have it ready for you on the day. Extra members of staff from different departments may also be needed – such as additional surgeons or radiography – the list goes on and on. The whole process is so enormously complicated and intricate that it astonishes me that it works at all. And it needs to have this level of complexity – we humans are not car parts, stamped out in a factory. There are so many different individual problems that need to be overcome, the system needs to be able to cope with them all. And, by and large, we do.

The downside of being able to cope with all of this with a high degree of safety is that the process has become streamlined, smoothed, tick-boxed and protocol-driven. The most widely publicised example of this is the WHO checklist. With a few simple questions this checklist manages two things that seem obvious but used to be done very badly. The first is that it requires all members of the operating team to meet, introduce themselves to each other, and discuss the day’s work ahead before anything happens. In one neat moment, suddenly everyone knows who everyone else is, what the plan for the particular patients that day is, and what problems are anticipated. The second is that, for every patient – before they’re sent off to sleep, is involved in a discussion that is designed to ensure we have the right patient for the right operation, and various safety aspects taken care of – antibiotics, crossmatched blood, prophylaxis against life-threatening blood clots… It’s simple, effective, and has saved many lives all over the world. Unfortunately, all of this can be hugely depersonalising, and worse, unsettling. Having a group of strangers discuss how much blood you’re possibly going to lose just before you fall off to sleep isn’t necessarily reassuring. The whole process of coming in early on the day of surgery – hungry and anxious – to be told to get undressed and meet a sometimes bewildering range of people, including a surgeon that might be different from the one you expected. To be repeatedly asked about yourself, and then to be discussed while you anxiously wait – no wonder people are scared!

So, what can we do? We only have a few minutes with each patient in the morning rush – but that’s enough. To engage with people on a human level, to let them know that we care, to stop them being quite so terrified is not as difficult as it sounds. Simply saying hello and telling people your name goes a long way – it says you care about them enough to let them know who you are! Tell them what’s going to happen and why, what to expect so that they don’t get a fright. Remember that the nonagenarian in front of you may have had an extraordinary life and seen more than you can ever imagine, don’t be patronising.

All of which brings me back to my little spiel at the top, there. Recently I was anaesthetising a man in his eighties for a straightforward urological procedure. He’d been telling us about his life, time in the mountains, his high-flying daughter, an severe accident he’d had racing motorcycles over fifty years ago. I started to inject the medicines to send him off to sleep, and talking about sunshine, warm weather – and he interrupted to say, “Nah, son. I’m gaunnae dream about scoring a penalty fir Liverpool, right in front of the Kop.” I loved that, it made me smile. It made everyone in the room smile, in fact. It reminded me anew, yet again, that our patients are people, with hopes and dreams and complicated lives, and to not lose sight of it. And it reminded me also, that no matter how old we get, boys never grow up.

David Christie is a Consultant Anaesthetist for Dumfries and Galloway Health Board