Tom Goodfellow

Tom Goodfellow is a recently retired consultant radiologist

Doctors need more support in GMC process

By Tom Goodfellow - 30th March 2015 11:31 am

I am a long-time Trustee of a small mental health charity supporting those experiencing the psychological effects of trauma (PTSD). We are an excellent organisation using evidence-based therapies.

We also carefully evaluate our outcomes, which are very good, using standard psychological assessment tools. The organisation is supervised externally by one of the leading academic psychology departments in the UK.

There is no statutory requirement for registration of the organisation with the CQC or any other body, but a number of years ago we were voluntarily registered with one of the non-statutory psychological regulatory bodies. That was when the trouble started!

I was Chair of the Trustees at the time when we received notification from the regulator that an official complaint had been raised against us and the decision had been taken to proceed to a full disciplinary hearing. We were advised to take legal advice since the consequences could be serious.

The complaint had been made by a volunteer trainee counsellor who, nearly three years previously, had been dismissed from a placement post without notice having seriously breached the terms of the volunteer agreement. The decision was based on the clear written advice of our external supervisor (at that time) who himself had been a leading figure in the regulatory body.

The complaint was extensive covering a whole range of issues most of which were vexatious, un-evidenced, untrue and completely unrelated to the dismissal. But rather than go for the option of local arbitration which would have resolved most of the issues, and probably have been better for the trainee, the regulator chose to bring the full force of a disciplinary hearing against us.

We were too poor to hire a lawyer so the bulk of the work fell on me, and many hours were spent in preparing the defence.

I found the hearing itself intensely stressful. With a dry mouth and pounding heart I sat opposite a stony faced panel of three who showed no sympathy or empathy of any sort. The complainant sat at an adjacent table seemingly enjoying the day in court. Fortunately the bulk of the complaint was dismissed immediately as irrelevant and unproven, and they focussed on the real issue which was the dismissal.

The fact that we had acted on the direction of our supervisor was considered but deemed unimportant. The responsibility, it seemed, lay directly with us. I left the hearing shaking and sweaty and emotionally exhausted.

A couple of weeks later we received the verdict – we were judged to have acted unfairly towards the volunteer. The “sanction” against us was that we were to prepare and implement a detailed policy for handling situations where there was a breakdown in relationship between our organisation and a volunteer.

We responded by informing the regulator that the incident had happened by now nearly four years previously. The organisation had changed and developed significantly in this time and that we no longer accepted counselling students on placement (as a result of this incident). The “sanction” was therefore completely irrelevant and of no practical value to us or anyone else for that matter.

However this made no difference – we were to comply or face the consequences! After some thought and a further exchange of letters we decided that this was simply organisational bullying and we walked away.

In consequence they published the complaint in its entirety in their official journal and declared us guilty of everything despite the fact that most of it, as agreed by the panel, was vexatious and irrelevant. They also contacted the local press to ensure as much bad publicity for us as possible. We were struck off the list of recognised organisations, (we had already resigned anyway). It was an emotionally very stressful time for myself and others in the team.

I write this because I have just been reading the GMC internal review on doctors who commit suicide while under GMC fitness to practise investigation.

It is a sad document although it makes some very sensible suggestions to improve matters. But there is no getting away from the fact that increasing numbers of doctors are being referred to the GMC, often on very flimsy grounds. All that is required is a few clicks on the GMC website. Although most cases do not progress to a full FTP hearing the stress on individuals can be huge, adding to the current clinical pressures which most are now facing. It is acknowledged that there is a higher incidence of substance abuse and suicide among doctors than in the general population and that stress is now a significant factor in the health of doctors.

From time to time I browse the MTPS website to read the published reports of completed FTP cases.

Obviously there are those doctors who should never be allowed near a patient again and who probably should not have been registered in the first place. But most of the cases are simple accounts of human frailty – silly deceits and deceptions which make you wonder why they could be so stupid! Nevertheless a full account of their misdemeanours is published for all to read – the ultimate in “naming and shaming”, a privilege which seems peculiarly reserved largely for the medical profession.

The saddest cases are those where a generally competent doctor has made an error of clinical judgement in a specific case resulting in a poor outcome for the patient, and the ensuing complaint has generated a FTP hearing.

I was fortunate enough to have never fallen foul of the GMC during my career, but my own little brush with the non-statutory psychology regulator was unpleasant enough and I can still taste the anger and bitterness more than a decade later.

But what happened as a result of this episode? Absolutely nothing – it was all forgotten after a short time. The charity suffered no negative consequences whatsoever and has continued to grow in size and reputation. Sadly not so for those judged wanting by the GMC, and even if acquitted the emotional damage can live on.

System already exists for analysing death rates

By Tom Goodfellow - 12th February 2015 10:58 am

Now I don’t normally consider myself a fashionista, (“you said it” mutters the daughter darkly) although I do believe that I cut a svelte figure among the old geezers at the gym.

However my attention was recently drawn to a cartoon in Private Eye depicting male models on the catwalk wearing designs by a genuine fashionista Rick Owens. One must expose oneself (sic) to new experiences and few clicks on google took me to the relevant sites although I warn you it is not for the faint hearted!

At the recent Paris fashion week his male models sashayed their way down the catwalk wearing what looked to me like ripped bin liners. However the stunning sensation was that beneath their garments they were all “going commando” and it was easy to tell because each had a discrete peephole or slash at groin level. Thus the audience was able to get quick tantalising glimpses of their genitals as they walked past.

I am no prude and, in the privacy of the clinical setting, we doctors get blasé about viewing male bits and pieces. And let’s be honest guys, unless you happen to have a physique like Michelangelo’s David, our dangly parts are not exactly our most attractive feature and are more akin to Mick Jagger’s wrinkly face!

In my opinion those guys on the catwalk just looked ridiculous and they would have been better advised to cover up!

But, oh dear me, this is precisely the opposite of the views expressed by the Secretary of State, Jeremy Hunt.

There is, it seems, a “cover up” scandal in the health service with one in a thousand patients “dying needlessly” due to medical errors and poor care.  If true (and it may well be) then this is indeed shocking. To address this he plans to introduce a new scheme of an annual review of two thousand deaths a year across the country which will, no doubt, result a league table and re-inforce the name-blame-shame culture in the “no blame” NHS.

We also learn that Labour plan to go one better by introducing a mandatory review of all deaths in hospitals in a sort of “my review is bigger than yours” way!

However I do have some news for the politicians (and much of the media). Such reviews do regularly take place in hospitals - they are called Morbidity and Mortality (M&M) meetings. These carry out (or at least should) exactly the functions that the SoS wants to introduce and, if properly run, they should review all deaths especially the unexpected, and also any unusual or serious complications. The findings of these meetings should then be fed back into the overall hospital governance system in order for trends to be identified and addressed. Significant cases should generate a serious case reviews which are examined in greater detail.

The problem is that the quality of M&M meetings may be very variable both between hospitals and individual departments and the reasons for this are obvious. They require a large amount of data collection and review, and this requires significant managerial and clinical co-ordination. The selection of cases may also be very unstructured depending on the openness of individual doctors.

Most clinicians are professional about this and want to identify and learn from mistakes and mishaps, although not all are willing to have their disasters aired in public.

But the most significant issue is that of time. In a busy department, in addition to preparation time, a properly run M&M meeting may take up to four hours and cannot be squeezed into a lunch break. So clinics, ward rounds and theatre sessions will need to be cancelled on a regular basis to accommodate this. Yet in these target-driven days it is not difficult to see why M&M meetings are not necessarily the first priority for managers and hospitals under pressure.

So, Mr Hunt, rather than introducing yet another stick with which to beat the medical profession why not invest in what is already up and running, but support and improve it. There should be national standards for the running of M&M meetings – these already exist for some specialities – and there is plenty of quality research out there. But you must also accept that there will be a cost – clinical time, and money to fund supporting staff.

Unlike Rick Owens’s male models most doctors are not too keen on being exposed for “trial by media” and increasingly these days “trial by GMC” if things go wrong. So Mr Hunt let’s have a bit less of the blame culture and try to be supportive instead. This is how you will gain the openness you seek - we all want the best for our patients - and well supported, properly functioning M&M meetings will go a long way in achieving this.

Over the next few months, leading up to the election, the politicians will be strutting their stuff on the catwalks, all determined to flaunt their assets to try to seduce us into voting for them. There will definitely be a few tools on display, but the PR teams will be working overtime to ensure we don’t see or hear anything too revealing!

Je ne suis pas Charlie

By Tom Goodfellow - 20th January 2015 11:19 am

Please don’t get me wrong. The murderous attacks in France two weeks ago were tragic and horrendous and no philosophy, religious or otherwise, can justify such brutality.

I am also a passionate advocate of free speech and the right to publish, should you chose, material or images which others may find contentious or offensive. I am not trying to be simplistic - I know that this is a complex subject with a whole range of qualifications and legal exceptions. But it is the basis of our democracy and no idea should be above open debate and criticism. And certainly no one deserves to be gunned down for expressing their views.

But just because people have the right to be offensive to others it does not mean that it is right to do so!

I was a teenager in the 60’s when satire was a growth industry. We all clustered round the tele on a Saturday night to watch TW3 hosted by the late David Frost, and we loved its cheeky humour poking fun at the pomposity of our lords and masters. (Do watch this clip all you youngsters who think that your generation has invented “stand-up”, but I warn you there is frequent satirical use of the “N” word).

No subject was beyond their reach be it religion, politics or even medicine and they made some individuals very cross. But I do not remember it every being gratuitously offensive in the sense that Frost and his team set out to be deliberately harmful or destructive to groups or individuals.

I accept that, at times, this can be a fine line and judgement is needed (the job of a good editor eh Mike), but I do not remember TW3 ever crossing it although they may have been close at times.

Private Eye (for which I received a year’s subscription at Christmas) has been exposing and poking fun for years at the shenanigans perpetrated by the not very good and not very great in society. Yet although much is disrespectful it is never destructive.

However the cartoonists of Charlie Hebdo had no such qualms and, as their expression of free speech, felt free to be as offensive as they wished – this was their raison d’etre it would appear (a pretty vacuous one it seems to me). But I understand the anger felt by many of my quiet respectable Muslim colleagues. As a Christian I would be happy to debate the tenets of our differing faiths, but I would never wish to be rude or offensive to them.

But this is not my main issue over the whole affair. What has really annoyed me has been the massive hypocritical response of the establishment to the shootings. Millions took to the streets in France to protest. Many of the heads of Europe linked arms in a show of solidarity for the right of freedom of expression. Yet France is a very divided and illiberal nation – just ask the many Jews who are leaving because of increasing anti-Semitism. Not a lot of égalité and fraternité there!

Interestingly the demonstration also included representatives of the Saudi government – that righteous upholder of free speech, and similarly Russia and China whose record on this is not entirely without issue. The Americans were missing although Secretary of State Kerry has made up for the political gaff since then.

But it has been the cant spouted by our own political leaders which has really sickened me, along with most of the liberal elites who dominate the media. They are all passionate, it seems, about freedom of speech, yet this country has seen a sustained attack on free speech, especially if people feel “offended” by any view they disagree with.

For example it is now common for University authorities to ban speakers who hold views which are not deemed politically correct or which may be offensive as the journalist and editor of Spiked, Brendan O’Neill, discovered when he was banned by the authorities of Christ Church, Oxford, from taking part in a debate on abortion (he was pro-choice). However a cohort of feminist students protested about the debate even taking place, and the authorities caved in. O’Neill quotes a number of other similar confrontations.

In each case, it wasn’t the fact the students disagreed with me that I found alarming — disagreement is great! — it was that they were so plainly shocked that I could have uttered such things, that I had failed to conform to what they assume to be right, that I had sought to contaminate their campuses and their fragile grey matter with offensive ideas,” he wrote in November.

TV presenter Judy Finnigan recently had to apologise after a twitter storm over comments she made on the convicted rapist Ched Evans. “I apologise unreservedly for any offence that I may have caused as a result of the wording I used”. Such “apologies” are becoming increasingly common as people object to being “offended” by any publicly expressed view which is not deemed culturally acceptable, i.e. does not conform to the current establishment or twitter view.

When David Cameron proposed his same-sex marriage bill virtually all public debate on the matter was quashed by the politicians and the chattering classes. Apparently the arguments were so self-evident that no discussion was required, and indeed anyone who took a different view was clearly “phobic” in some way. There are many more similar examples.

Anyone who wishes to participate in public life in any way is now expected to conform to the views of the liberal elite and the twitterati, and heaven help you if you step out of line.

So RIP Charlie cartoonists – you did not deserve your fate. But I am unsure what your drawings have contributed to society.

Christmas: the general anaesthetic of the people

By Tom Goodfellow - 17th December 2014 9:11 pm

In 1960 when I was eleven I was invited by my school music master, appropriately named John Fear, to join the Christmas choir at All Souls Church, Langham Place.

For those unfamiliar with London churches it is an imposing Nash building sited at the north end of Regents Street, next door to the BBC. The church has a strong tradition of evangelical Anglicanism and currently about 2500 people attend services or meetings throughout the week. It also has a good musical tradition although these days it is very different from the 1960’s when my music master was in charge.

In those days the All Souls Christmas carol service followed the traditional Anglican pattern of Nine Lessons and Carols by candlelight. Since I had a good treble voice I was singled out to sing the opening solo, the first verse of “Once in Royal David’s City”, at the top of the isle before leading the procession to the choir stalls at the front of the church.

All was carefully dress rehearsed and, wearing our red cassock and white surplice, we practiced slowly processing while trying not to trip over or set ourselves ablaze with our candles. You can imagine the picture – the innocent fresh faces of the choirboys, the wonderful colours and smells of Christmas and the traditional readings and carols. I was so proud and excited to have a significant role in such a great show.

Except that it didn’t happen! While on the way there my father’s car, a battered ancient Humber Hawk, stalled on Regents Street South and he couldn’t get it started for ages. So I missed my moment of glory, finally slinking into the choir stalls through the side door fifteen minutes late. The solo spot was taken by my arch rival, a boy a year older than me whose hormones had not yet kicked in.

Throughout life we all must learn the lessons of disappointment. We do not always get the job, girl or prize, and we need to accept this and move on. But to this day I can still recall the aching disappointment of my former self, the eleven-year-old boy.

Looking back this was probably the start of my disenchantment with the whole business of Christmas and all that goes with it. Hang on a minute someone will say, surely you are a Christian and Christmas is one of the great festivals of the Church?

Now please don’t get me wrong! I am no Ebenezer Scrooge shouting “Bah! Humbug” every few minutes. On the contrary I enjoy a party as much as anyone, and anything to brighten up the dull days of winter is to be welcomed. So we will have our (pagan) Christmas tree, roast turkey, pudding and no doubt the odd glass or three on the 25 December and we will make merry with the family.

But it is the whole cloying sickly sentimentality of the ‘religious’ aspects of Christmas that disturbs me. Christ was born in abject poverty into a refugee family in a country under brutal military occupation. He was then taken by his parents across the border to a foreign country to escape the homicidal rage of the local ruler. Does this sound familiar? Turn on the television today and you see that nothing has changed in two thousand years except that the refugees now carry mobile phones.

There are still millions of families in similar dreadful situations.

I listened recently on the radio to Fergal Keane, the BBC foreign correspondent, giving an account of a meeting he had with a mother in East Ukraine. She had had two children, a daughter and a disabled younger son who was doted on by his sister. One day the shelling started and, in terror, she tried to run to a neighbour’s house where they had a basement. On the way a shell exploded nearby and both children were torn apart by shrapnel.

It was clear that Keane was struggling with his own emotions as he told the story. I cannot remember his exact words but he implied that it was too small a war (only about 4000 killed so far) to shake the political powers into more than pontificating, while still having devastating effects on individuals and families.

The nonsense written on a billion Christmas cards of “Peace on Earth, good will among men” is simply not reflected in the realities of the world today, and certainly not in the Bible where Christ himself predicts “wars and rumours of wars” and “nation rising against nation”. The New Testament records the factual details of the birth of Christ but nowhere are we exhorted to celebrate his birth in the over-the-top way that the Church and the world does, starting in August. Indeed the only “celebration”, commanded by Christ himself, is the communion service - the bread and wine - to remember his death!

I think we live in a very conceited age where many believe that science and what is termed “rationalism” have answered all the questions. But a review of worldwide news should quickly dissuade anyone of that view.

I am not saying that the world has never been darker although I am beginning to wonder! But sadly at this time of the year the churches simply collude with the world and coat the Christian message with tinsel and glitzy wrapping paper to make it all presentable and acceptable. Most children today can’t differentiate between the baby Jesus and Santa Claus!

This is supposed to be a medical blog so to misquote Karl Marx, “Christmas is the general anaesthetic of the people”. It renders us insensible and completely oblivious to the painful realities of life.

So I am going to suggest an alternative bible verse for Christmas cards. It is regularly read out as one of the nine lessons, but seldom preached in churches these days. It is taken from the prophet Isaiah chapter 9: “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light. On those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned” (New International Version).

Until you have seen and acknowledged the darkness then you have no chance of seeing the light no matter how it is dressed up. I hope that of the many thousands who will make their annual trip to church this Christmas, some will avoid anaesthesia and encounter the truth of the one who claimed to be the light of the world.

I realise that by posting this it is Goodfellow contra mundum, but what is the point of a blog if one cannot be frank and honest?

I wish very happy seasonal greetings to all readers of Hospital Doctor, especially the poor blighters who will have to work on Boxing Day when half the world will turn up at the front door of all the Emergency Departments in the country, many suffering from an excess of merriment.

Proud that I was there at the beginning

By Tom Goodfellow - 26th November 2014 11:46 am

Years ago when I was a radiology trainee I was fortunate to spend a day a week for several months with an aged but very eminent radiologist, Dr Ronald O. Murray.

He was one of the pioneers of skeletal radiology and co-authored with an American radiologist, Dr Harold Jacobson, their magnum opus Radiology of Skeletal Disorders: Exercises in Diagnosis. As might be expected Ron had many stories and anecdotes and the lunchtime trips to the pub (the best ham sandwiches I have ever tasted) were highly entertaining.

One story which sticks in my memory concerned a lady at the highest level of society (one must maintain patient confidentiality). Ron was in his shared rooms in Harley Street one day when the door opened and a plain clothes policemen entered. “She’s arrived!” he declared. Ron was bewildered until it was realised that the appointment date had inexplicably been confused, and the lady was booked to see a different radiologist the following day. But obviously the receptionist was not going to say, “Sorry Dear, you’ve got the wrong day. Come back tomorrow”.

The patient was due a chest X-ray and, on completion, asked if “one could get dressed”. After about ten minutes a very panicky radiographer rushed in to tell Ron that the film had got stuck in the processor and needed to be repeated. He then had the embarrassing job of confessing to the “patient” that, unfortunately, she needed to get undressed again.

His moral was simple: no matter how eminent the patient keep them in the gown until the film has been checked!

Of course modern young doctors will not have a clue what I am talking about! Today the digital image will appear on the screen seconds after the exposure, and even if the image is not perfect it can generally be “windowed” to improve it. The clinicians then dial up their patient’s images on the PACS system or probably before long on their mobile phone. However things were very different in the olden days.

In 1966, while still a sixth former, I took a summer job as a porter in the X-ray department of Charing Cross Hospital, and I mean the original hospital just off the Strand built in 1831. I remember that the department was very small and cramped. The radiologists (such as there were) would wear red goggles to get them “dark adapted” before using the fluoroscopy unit which was a much more basic bit of kit than we have today.

In those days the radiographs were still processed in dark-rooms containing large tanks of developer and fixer fluid. They would then be hung up on a rack to dry in warm air unless clinical urgency demanded the “wet film” – a term which survived for many years after wet processing ceased.

But by the time I started as a medical student in 1967 the tanks were being replaced by mechanical processors – large smelly machines which automatically rolled the films through the developer and spat them out dry at the other end after about four minutes. But they were forever going wrong and chewing up the films so that they had to be taken apart to retrieve the crumpled mess. Obviously it was this type of equipment which was used in Ron’s rooms down “the Street”.

But accepting that all of medicine has progressed hugely in the last forty years I would argue that it is probably the developments in radiology which have had the greatest impact on patient management.

When I was House Surgeon to Sir Alan Parkes in 1974 a very common operation was the laparotomy – that is open them up to take a look and find out what is going on in the abdomen. Today no one would dream of operating on a patient without knowing exactly what is going on thanks to our high quality ultrasound and CT scanners.

Major trauma patients can be on the scanner within minutes of arriving in the ED and imaged from top to toe in seconds. 3D reconstructions of complex fractures will demonstrate for the orthopaedic surgeons exactly what they need to do in terms of repair. Cancers may be diagnosed and accurately staged with extraordinary accuracy.

But perhaps the greatest advance has been in the area of interventional radiology, or “surgery down the tubes” as a past President of the RCR called it.

As an FRCS who became an FRCR I was well placed, with many others, to start developing these techniques, especially image-guided interventions. And we are now able to do what was unimaginable when I started forty years ago.

A few weeks ago a twenty-two year old lad was admitted to my hospital with abdominal pain. He was generally very fit, gym three times a week! A CT scan demonstrated a huge pelvic abscess almost certainly from a missed pelvic appendicitis.

In the olden days he would have had a full laparotomy with a stormy post-operative recovery probably involving wound sepsis and the risk of adhesions. He would have been off work for weeks and probably would not get back to the gym for months. He would also have a large lower abdominal scar.

But under ultrasound guidance I was, without difficulty, able to drain a litre of pus trans-rectally and he was discharged well two days later.

In a few days I will retire from clinical work. I have had a full, interesting and enjoyable career. But as I look back it will be this case, and many others like it, which will give me the most satisfaction. We are now able to diagnose, treat and cure many patients using minimally invasive radiological techniques. A new generation of radiologists are building on this type of work and much of it is very impressive.

But I am quietly pleased that I was there at the beginning.

New cancer target: idiocy in glorious technicolour

By Tom Goodfellow - 21st October 2014 11:50 am

When they were young my children’s favourite show was Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.

We went up to London twice to see it (with Jason then Phillip), and the tape of the songs was played on every car journey for some years – we all knew the words backwards.

For those unfamiliar with the Biblical story it is a “rags to riches” account of a young man who rises from being an imprisoned slave to become the ruler of ancient Egypt, second only to the Pharaoh himself. For those interested in the history I would recommend Pharaohs and Kings – a Biblical Quest by the Egyptologist David M. Roal (Crown Publications) which was also made into a Channel 4 production some years ago.

Whether you believe it to be fact or fiction the story of Joseph contains many interesting lessons, the chief one being that if you are aware that a crisis is approaching then it is prudent to take well thought out remedial action of some sort to mitigate the effects of the disaster, in this case an approaching seven-year famine affecting the Middle East.

Thoughts of impending disaster brings me to the current state of the NHS. Thankfully the political party conference season is over for another year although we have the looming cloud of the election campaign to face next year. The NHS, we are told, is to be a key campaigning issue and politicians of all parties are almost wetting themselves in their enthusiasm to tell us how much they ‘lurve’ the NHS - the jewel in the crown of the (only just) United Kingdom (wild applause and cheers from the party faithful).

Anyone who dares to suggest otherwise is clearly an unmitigated wretch and heretic.

Indeed last Saturday, Ed Milliband announced the introduction of another wretched target. “The Labour Party is to pledge that by 2020 no-one in England will wait more than a week for cancer tests and results if it wins the next election.” This will be funded by extra tax on the tobacco firms, and will save up to 10,000 lives per year (the evidence for this last statement being somewhat unclear).

However earlier in the month Dr Giles Maskell, the president of the Royal College of Radiologists, sent a letter to the CMO’s in all trusts basically stating that radiology in the UK is at breaking point, and indeed has broken down in some places. The reason is simply that the demand for complex imaging (CT, MRI) has been rising at 10-12% annually for at least a decade, and unfortunately this has not been matched by a similar increase in resources (an understatement if ever there was one).

Specifically there is now a significant lack of consultant radiologists – increasing numbers of posts are unfilled, and we have almost the lowest number of radiologists per 100,000 population in the developed world! Despite modest increases in training numbers this will not address the likely shortfall.

In addition to the reporting backlog there is difficulty in supporting the cancer MDMs which are also increasing in numbers of cases and complexity, and where the radiology input is in frequently crucial to patient management. Due to sudden long term illness, one of my colleagues told me last week that she is facing the prospect of running the radiology of the lung cancer MDT single handed – generally over forty patients per week; many cases referred in from other hospitals. This work load is unsustainable and there is no one else to help her.

But this situation has not just suddenly emerged. Many radiologists and the royal college have been shouting about the impending disaster for some years both at local and national levels, but these warnings have fallen on political deaf ears while they assure us that the NHS is “safe in our hands”.

Exactly the same story is being told by virtually all other specialities in primary and secondary care and also by the allied health professions. A seven day turn around for your “cancer test results” seems a bit pointless if you cannot get a GP appointment for weeks! Many warnings on the impending demographic and funding crisis have been given, but listen to the inanities spouted by the politicians one quickly realises that their heads are firmly inserted ‘where the sun don’t shine’. All they are interested in is political sound bites and winning the election.

The breathlessly enthusiastic shadow health minister, Liz Kendall, burbled on during a Radio4 interview on Saturday morning about their wonderful exciting plans to er…“reorganise” (yes she used that word) how health care is to be delivered by the next Labour Government. Her response to the challenge of the impending £30 billion black hole in NHS finances was disappointingly little more than “care in the community” - do you remember that one?

Now anything we can do to reduce the flood of patients turning up at the front door of the hospital would be welcome, but given that the ‘famine’ has been predicted by so many for so long it is ultimately depressing that so little or indeed nothing has been done to address the problem other than a lot of hot air. There seems to be no sensible joined up thinking at the political level as to how to plan or finance the service and Milliband’ s seven-day cancer target is political posturing at its worst.

No it is worse than that – it is sheer stupidity, and the man takes us for idiots that we cannot see through this.

Not that the other lot have done any better. Recently senior members of the government admitted that the reorganisation of the NHS by the Health & Social Care Act, costing £3 billion, had been their biggest mistake causing “profound and intense damage” to the service. George Osborne has stated that he really did not realise what Lansley was doing otherwise he would have pulled the plug! Oh dear me - why didn’t somebody warn him (irony)!

So we are left with a government who have admitted that they have completely f**ked up the health care system, and an opposition who are so disconnected from the coal face that they cannot distinguish their arse from their elbow. Hardly an encouraging scenario!

The Biblical story says that God gave Pharaoh a dream which only Joseph was able to interpret and so predict the impending famine. However we don’t need dreams to warn us that troubled times are ahead – the omens are all too clear. Perhaps we should all pray for another Joseph to rise up, with or without a dreamcoat, to come and lead us out of this mess.

Dream on!

Democracy absent in Scottish independence vote

By Tom Goodfellow - 15th September 2014 9:23 am

For a moment there on Sunday, I felt some respite. The death of the Reverend Ian Paisley and the incineration of a dog’s home pushed the Scottish Referendum off the front pages.

But come Monday morning, it’s back in the headlines.

I, for one, am mind-numbingly bored and fed up with the whole wretched farrago.

Don’t get me wrong - of course I think it is important; it is incredibly so! Indeed it is probably the defining issue in our country since the end of the Second World War.

Despite the fact that this is a process which will have a profound effect on the whole of the UK, the vast majority of us, including me obviously, have no say whatsoever in the outcome. We have no vote – we are disenfranchised and are not even invited to join the discussion. This is a decision for Scotland alone we are told.

The population of the UK is about 64.1M (2013) while the population of Scotland is about 5.3M, which is approximately 8.2% of the whole. Now I am not a mathematician (which is why I had to become a doctor) but if 50.1% of residents in Scotland vote “yes” then the whole future will be decided by about 4.2% of the UK, or 2.6M voters with over 90% having no say.

Would someone please explain to me why this is democracy because I simply cannot get my brain round it. I have now got to the stage that as soon as I hear someone with a nice Scottish brogue blathering on about the benefits to Scotland (not the rest of us) I rush for the ‘off’ button on the radio or TV.

The whole of the ‘yes’ debate is based on the suggested benefits for Scotland, but challenge them on the effects on the rest of us and there is a deafening silence. The simply don’t want to know and completely avoid the issue. There is a deep national selfishness at the heart of the issue. We want our rights, and we simply don’t care what happens to the rest of you.

I have to say that I think the level of the debate on both sides has been appallingly dismal. Salmond smirks his way around the country ridiculing anyone who disagrees with him, and answering every question he can’t answer (a great many) by saying it is “scaremongering”.

Yet in sepulchre tones he waves the shroud of threatened NHS ‘privatisation’ despite the fact that NHS Scotland is completely separate from England and any decisions on its future are entirely a matter for the Scottish Parliament. If that is not scaremongering I don’t know what is!

Darling and the rest of the Better Together crew have been just as useless mounting a totally negative campaign and failing to present any defining view of the future of the Union. As panic ensues we see the Westminster glitterati rushing to Scotland to try and engender a bit of eleventh hour support for the Union, but all I can say is too little, too late!

If the ‘yes’ vote wins then I think there will be a huge political price to pay.

The breakup of the Union will have huge effects on all of us which, as yet, are largely unquantified. It will certainly cost us taxpayers £billions as institutions have to be carved up and re-formed. Britain, as a whole, will be diminished internationally and we are already seeing money disappear from our pension funds as the markets contemplate the uncertainty of the future.

The Deutsche Bank, a major independent financial institution with no axe to grind, has stated that the breakup would be as great a mistake as that which led to the great depression of the 1930’s. Scaremongering of course!

I have seldom felt so depressed about the political state of our nation and whatever the result of the vote on Thursday it will leave deep scars which will take a generation to heal.

As it happens I am a full Scot by birth, but whereas university students there for a brief three years may vote, I cannot. Perhaps I should burn my kilt!

How comfortable are you with the full Monty?

By Tom Goodfellow - 28th August 2014 8:33 am

She was pleasant, but very professional taking a detailed personal history going back to childhood.

She also questioned me as to what outcome I was hoping for. This was followed by a few simple “table top” tests which were very revealing. Then she finally pronounced the inevitable words which I had been dreading, “Let’s take a proper look at you”.

So there it was! The pants off, full Monty, no hiding place moment had arrived. With a slightly pounding heart, and feeling more exposed than I believed possible I adjusted the piano stool and bashed out an embarrassingly awful version of Beethoven’s Für Elise (For Elsie).

The teacher nodded in a vaguely positive/painful way and started to instruct me in some very basic finger exercises and scales.

So started my first proper piano lesson for more than half a century and I must admit that I hadn’t felt so vulnerable since…

Berlin at least twenty years ago where I went for a radiology conference (I cannot remember the subject). It was held in an excellent central location with all the facilities one would expect in a top quality European hotel, including a sauna!

At the end of the first day I decided to make use of the facilities before dinner and go for a steam. So clutching swimming trunks in hand I made my way into the changing area – only to be confronted as I entered by a completely naked lady who gazed at me with an expression of mild amusement in a “what do we have here” sort of way.

Being British, and in a foreign country, I immediately assumed that I was in the wrong place at the wrong time – presumably a “ladies only” session. But before I could make my apologies and leave the sauna door opened and a naked man emerged. I didn’t know where to look!

Then the penny dropped and I realised that this was Europe and not straight-laced, buttoned-up, emotionally repressed England.

I retreated to the changing cubicle to consider my options. I could beat a hasty, but rather cowardly, retreat (my preferred option), or don my swimming trunks and brazen it out in a sort of “I’m British and we don’t do nudity” way. Alternatively I could take courage and - well you get the idea!

Of course the issue was not the lady’s nudity, but my own! In our profession we see acres of naked flesh on a daily basis, of all shapes and sizes, and it never bothers us.

But exposing themselves and becoming vulnerable is something that we, as doctors, expect our patients to do every day. Although we do our best to maintain their dignity we do not always succeed; often the full Monty is necessary for good clinical reasons. Many cheerily cope but some struggle. In a light-hearted way I frequently advise patients that they should never take off more than they absolutely have to in hospital, and this usually helps them to relax.

But in essence this was exactly the same issue that I was facing in the Berlin sauna. How secure was I with the idea of being completely naked in front of a bunch of complete strangers?

“If you’ve got it, flaunt it” they say, but if you haven’t got it then best keep it under wraps is my philosophy. However to enter a sauna still partially clothed while all the other occupants are in the buff would make one stand out from the crowd even more as “foreign” and in a strange way seem disrespectful to the more liberated Europeans.

In the end I packed my trunks in the locker with the rest of my things and, whistling tunelessly with my towel round my neck, wandered carelessly into the fairly crowded sauna and found a suitable corner to hide in. Unsurprisingly all the other occupants, male and female, completely ignored me!

Except for one! In the conference, the next morning, a female colleague shouted across the room that it had been nice to see all of me yesterday. In the gloom I hadn’t spotted her.

So back to Für Elise and piano scales. I still feel very uncertain in the lessons (the teacher calls it performance anxiety) but at least I can keep my pants on!

Reflect on today’s events as well as WWI

By Tom Goodfellow - 5th August 2014 9:36 am

On my desk before me is a photograph entitled ‘4th Seaforth Highlanders returning to the front’. It shows a group of civilians and soldiers in Highland army dress standing before an iron railway bridge in the station in the Scottish town of Dingwall, Ross & Cromarty (as it was in those days).

Among them is my grandfather, Private Daniel Alexander MacKenzie number 393, with my grandmother Ada beside him and two of my aunts as small children. My mother had not yet been conceived. The date is November 5th 1914. I know this because I have located some of his military records which show he was on the expeditionary force at that time, returning home on December 8th 2015.

I understand that the regiment returned to the front a second time in 2016 but I do not have the details. Fortunately he survived (obviously otherwise I would not be here) but he never spoke about this to me as a child so I have no stories to relate.

As the world remembers the one hundredth anniversary of the start of the First World War and the sixteen million dead this picture holds a deep poignancy for me. Interestingly the iron bridge is still there but the station is now a Christian bookshop.

During the Second World War my father (not a doctor) was a lieutenant in the Royal Army Medical Core of the 157 Field Ambulance which was part of the 52nd Lowland Division.

I have the history of the Division and it makes fascinating reading. My father always joked that they were trained for some years in the mountains of Scotland, and were then landed in the flat lands of Holland!

However, he told me nothing else, either as a child or as an adult. In addition to the job of rescuing the wounded I think they also has to retrieve the dead. It was clearly very horrific and I suspect he suffered to some extent from what we would now call Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome. It is said that 2.5% of the world population perished as a result of that conflict.

But as the world remembers the events of one hundred years ago it seems that so little has changed. The last century held two brutal world wars but also other wars almost too numerous to mention. This century, in its first fourteen years, seems little different. We have had Iraq, Afghanistan, and many other horrific conflicts which are on-going.

All caring doctors will be appalled at the deeply distressing images emerging from Gaza as ill-equipped hospitals try to cope with the tide of casualties, many of them women and children. But we are also aware that the issues on both sides are complex and historical with individuals arguing passionately on each side of the case, which is true of many of the other conflicts. The devastation of Syria has dropped off the news headlines, but the death and destruction continues unabated.

We meditated on this in church today. The Christian faith is not sloppy and sentimental about these things. “Peace on earth and good will among men” is NOT the message given by the angels announcing the birth of Christ to the shepherds – that is a completely blatant misreading of the scripture and suited only for silly Christmas cards.

On the contrary Christ himself stated, “You will hear of wars and rumours of wars.” “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom.” “There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of birth pains”. Matthew 24.

Ebola is rampant in parts of Africa, and drug-resistant TB and malaria are becoming an increasing problem both in countries where they are endemic, but also here in the UK among the immigrant communities.

The previous Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, has announced that there is a developing famine in South Sudan which will likely affect four million people. This is because they have not been able to farm their lands due to the on-going conflict.

There has been an earthquake in China this week!

The world has never been more uncertain and modern communication brings this right into our living rooms.

There is much to reflect on as we remember the anniversary of the commencement of WW1.

Assisted dying debate has been irrational

By Tom Goodfellow - 21st July 2014 10:21 am

Forty years ago, when I was a very junior houseman, a young man was admitted for surgery to remove a large malignant bowel tumour.

Post operatively he did very badly with an ileus which persisted for several weeks, dehiscence of the wound and a leaking bowel fistula. Finally, in desperation at the lack of improvement, the consultant performed a laparotomy (no CT scans in those days) and discovered that he had galloping cancer; his whole abdomen was infiltrated with tumour and faeculent fluid.

On return to the ward the consultant simply muttered, “Don’t let him wake up”. I then witnessed the surgical registrar and the senior ward sister administer a whopping dose of opiate. The young man never woke up and quietly died within twenty-four hours. That is how things were done in those days.

This was medical euthanasia, although I would maintain that it was in fact good compassionate medicine and within the law. It was accepted in those days that the administration of large doses of opiates to relieve terminal suffering was acceptable, even though it hastened the patient’s death.

I regularly witnessed similar practice when, a year or so later, I worked at one of the well-known cancer hospitals.

But things seem more complicated these days so let me relate a different case.

Several years ago the elderly father of a friend developed severe progressive dementia. He was cared for initially by his wife with family support. However increasing age and infirmity of both necessitated his admission to a care home.

After some months in the home he became unwell and, as seems to be routine practice these days, an ambulance was summoned and the old man admitted to hospital.

After a few days of IV rehydration and antibiotics he had recovered sufficiently to be discharged back to the home. However the severity of his dementia meant that he had no quality of life whatsoever and he required total care.

Over the next eighteen months this scenario was repeated five times. On the last occasion my friend was informed of the admission and managed to get there in time to discuss with the admitting team the appropriateness or otherwise of continuing active treatment. It was agreed that the old boy should simply be kept comfortable and he quietly passed away after a couple of days. The ‘old man’s friend’ had done the job.

In my view my friend was right to intervene; the treatment administered during the previous admissions was completely inappropriate given the clinical context. But it is difficult to blame the hospital doctors – in a busy emergency department such judgements are not always practical or possible. The real mistake was the 999 call summoning the ambulance.

Had the GP, in conjunction with the family and the home, made a proper care plan then the old man could have had a quieter and more dignified end in his own bed.

On Friday 18 July, their Lordships debated Lord Falconer’s assisted dying bill. I don’t want to rehearse all the various arguments other than to say that, in my opinion, to ignore the strong views of many disabled individuals and groups would seem to me to be foolishness in the extreme. I also think that the well-known adage ‘hard cases make bad law‘ is totally apposite in this case.

But the clincher, in my view, is the ’six months’ prognosis. Any sensible doctor knows that that is daft!

But it seems to me that society is confused and divided on this, and I accept that these issues are very complex. We spend ever increasing resources on investigating and treating a patient whose life is clearly coming to an end while vociferous groups are campaigning for assisted suicide and euthanasia.

These days it seems impossible for many to die without having multiple investigations, and I witness this on a daily basis as frail elderly folk or the terminally ill are wheeled in for yet another scan which will make no meaningful difference to the outcome.

This week, during a busy ultrasound list, I was asked by a junior if I would urgently scan a patient with acute kidney injury. I normally agree to such request on the grounds that it may significantly alter acute management. However the patient they wheeled in was a demented 92-year old! My report simply said, “92-year-old kidneys”!

These days it seems that every confused elderly patient brought in by ambulance will have a cranial CT scan on the rational that “we might miss something” or “please exclude a ….”, and every patient with mild SOB will have a CTPA to exclude a PE. There seems to be little joined up diagnostic thinking.

Please don’t get me wrong. Of course I fully support appropriate investigation of patients, irrespective of age and infirmity, but the emphasis is on the word “appropriate”!

There does need to be a discussion in our society around the end-of-life issues, but I am not convinced that the debate so far is rational. It seems to me that the case supporting Lord Falconer’s bill rested heavily on emotion and “hard cases” rather than rationality.

We are told that 69% of the population support assisted dying but then 60% would like to see the re-introduction of capital punishment! Should we go with the crowd or what? Those who oppose the re-introduction of the death penalty do so because they believe it is wholly wrong in principle, and those opposed to assisted suicide do so on the same basis.

Of course the assisted suicide bill is completely different from the case I described initially, but I for one would be deeply unhappy if our society chose to choose the slippery slope of assisted dying. Instead let us find a middle way of protecting the vulnerable while not striving officiously to preserve poor quality life at all costs.

“Thou shalt not kill; but needst not strive officiously to keep alive.”