Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Confusion - you just won't believe me.....

From time to time I like to roll out Auntie Margaret's disco ball so you can have a jolly soundtrack while reading this blog.

I hope you will enjoy New Order's Confusion. It's a tune from my youth, rather stuck in my head at the moment, read on and you will find out why.....

The NHS changed on 1st April 2013. I went to a conference last year where I found out quite a bit about the vision and commitment behind the changes and actually came away feeling cautiously optimistic. I could see the strong desire to become more patient focussed. There were a lot of fine words. The new NHS Constitution really makes a lot of sense.

My concern was that NHS resources are so stretched, the system so Byzantine and the changes being pushed through at such a fast pace that it may prove very difficult to realise the ideals supposedly being pursued. Also, my natural suspicion of politicians' motives made me wonder whether actually the whole restructure project is really in service of a totally different agenda - basically the dismantling of our NHS by creating something so totally unworkable that staff and patients will simply exit the system in ever increasing numbers. Is it really possible that our government could be so cynical they would actively seek to destroy this wonderful institution which we all care about so passionately and which has so much going for it? My optimistic soul hopes fervently this cannot be the case.  But you know, sometimes I can't help but wonder.

So what is going on? Total and utter bloody confusion on one hand. Some very determined, intelligent, committed individuals trying to do something really good on the other.

I went to another meeting yesterday - the board meeting of the governing body of my newly created local clinical commissioning group (CCG). It was open to the public, in the spirit of transparency and welcoming patient voices. It was interesting and yet again I came away feeling cautiously optimistic.

I was quite excited to meet a chap on the board who's a professor of endocrinology and was very encouraging about the British Thyroid Foundation getting more involved in lobbying CCGs around the country to improve standards  and consistency of care for thyroid patients. He even indicated there  may be some funding available to help the charity do this. He said that GPs should have greater access to specialist knowledge to help their hard to treat thyroid patients, under the new structure. And he kindly offered to send me some documentation that will help me understand where things are going, with (I'm  hoping) the potential for the charity to influence things going forward.

(I hear on the grapevine that BTF will soon be launching a three year Hypothyroidism Care Strategy, more on this in future posts....)

He and all the other CCG governing board members who were there appeared to be bright as hell, highly motivated and very much focused on  improving patient care, listening to patients and effective resource management in order to provide the best possible quality of integrated care. Impressive.

Rewind to the real world - a month ago I asked my GP to find out why my endocrinologist had sent me a blood test form which was a duplicate of one I already have which he had previously told me to use before my next appointment with him (due in about 5 months time).  It had arrived via the post with no accompanying note so I don't know if I have it in order for him to monitor me between appointments, perhaps depending on how I feel ( that would make sense)  or if it's just a duplicate been sent in error (perhaps more likely). A month later I chase for a response because I have a sneaking suspicion I should possibly be having the test fairly soon, particularly as I still don't feel quite right (about 6 weeks after my last test), the receptionist confirms that the GP sent a letter to the endo the day I spoke to her but no response has come back. Apparently the letter was sent via COURIER.

The last time I tried to ask a question of my endo I had gone direct to his secretary (naively assuming that was the best way to contact him) and had quite a weird experience as she ended up telling me to reduce my medicine without seeming to take his advice on the matter and I ended up (a few months later) quite unwell because the dose reduction was too much. It was a bit of a complicated scenario. I was feeling over medicated so thought a reduction was the right thing to do and after trying and trying to get the docs view on it I finally gave in and just did as I was told by his secretary, she basically capitulating to what I was saying I thought I probably needed to do. Subsequently (many months later when I saw him and by which time I was proper hypo again) the endo said he would have advised a more subtle adjustment.  Not good really is it? He also told me if I had any questions in the future I must go via my GP as she would be able to get an answer by going through the correct channels.

Anyway - the learned professor, at the forefront of the brave new NHS, with all it's efficiencies and openness and patient-centric approach,  had told me that GPs can now access information from specialists via the Choose and Book system. Apparently it's not just for booking appointments, it's also a communications channel that should enhance the quality of the care we patients get. The key to quality care for thyroid patients, according to the Prof (and I agree) is GPs listening to symptoms, not just looking at blood test results - and conveying quality information about those symptoms to specialists, who can advise them on what tests to order/treatment to try, if they are unsure themselves what to do. The key to success is quality information.

My GP's surgery have never heard of Choose and Book being used in this way. Perhaps it's a new thing coming in and has not actually started yet. Anyway. The fact is that last September because I was unable to access specialist advice I started taking a lower dose of meds than I should and by March this year I was very unwell again. And I am still not as well as I was before so I still want some specialist support for what to do, or not to do about it and my GP has been unable to get a simple to answer to a simple question of whether or not I am supposed to get my blood tested for over a month.  The chances of there being any transfer whatsoever of quality information relating to the actual symptoms I am experiencing being relayed to my endocrinologist seem remote. the last time I saw my GP she appeared so dismissive and almost hostile seeming, with no interest whatsoever in hearing about any of my symptoms I am almost at a loss to know how I should approach her to try and get her on side and helping me work out what I should be doing now.

And I'm so mystified about why she seems this way because I honestly think she's mostly a good doctor and very conscientious - she sent the query to the endo the same day I saw her. I know she works long hours and takes a lot of time with many of  her patients, she obviously cares about her job and often gets rave reviews.  I don't know if there's something about the way I present in surgery that gets her back up. I try not to be a nuisance but at the same time I am probably a bit more challenging as a patient than perhaps she's used to. I ask questions, I have opinions, sometimes I get tearful, usually when my thyroid hormones are out of kilter.  I don't know. I appreciate that the long hours she works just might mean she sometimes feels under pressure and her communication style suffers as a result. I try to be understanding of that.  I stick to the facts and do my best not to get emotional. But it's hard, being ill. I wish the system was a little bit more supportive of that than it sometimes seems to be.

So today I'm confused. thank heavens for early '80s classic pop, always a comfort in times of uncertainty. :)

How are things with you, what do you think of the NHS changes? What's your experience been recently of navigating the system? What do you think of the latest offering from Auntie Margaret's disco ball?

In solidarity.

Thyroid Hope.

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Patient Voices on Psychological Wellbeing, May 2013

"I could talk about psychological wellbeing all day on this lovely couch"

The previous post introduced the Patients Voices meeting we held in London on 11th May. This post shares the notes from the breakout discussion group which looked at Psychological Wellbeing with a thyroid condition. 

With many thanks to the participant who has kindly typed these up and included the links to the two articles which help illustrate some of the points the group explored.

Psychological Wellbeing, Discussion Group Notes:

We talked about coping strategies people have for helping manage their psychological wellbeing with thyroid conditions.  

One person has been on anti-depressants for just under 6 months and it has transformed her life.  She did have adverse effects the first couple of weeks but was warned about this by her doctor and stuck with the prescription.  One interesting note is the antidepressant has a warning note it should be not be given to thyroid patients but the doctor is still prescribing the medication. 

A couple of people talked about concerns if long term lack of treatment for thyroid conditions might affect brain function generally.  Some in the group had suffered untreated for years, they think in hindsight. 

Also when the doctor does realise there is an issue with the patient's thyroid, they don't say enough about coping with how people may FEEL with this condition. 

There was a bit of a discussion about the differences people are feeling between overactive and underactive thyroid conditions, but we didn't talk a lot about that, and I don't have any detailed notes about it.

One person talked about her issues with general physical weakness.  She talks a lot to herself to keep her spirits up.  Also she's learned to pace herself to bank her energy.  

Working and raising children is an added stress.  If people have the opportunity to not work, then they can rest more during the day.  Also if you work, you'll try to hide your symptoms from co-workers which is an added stress.

For many, there was a feeling of years wasted.  Too often people compared themselves to others and thought they hadn't accomplished as much.  One person keeps a journal listing anything she does and completes.  She refers to that to help her realise she is getting things done.

I mentioned research I've seen in the past where the human brain is wired to remember negative experiences much more prominantly than positive experiences. The theory is this goes back to caveman days where that memory trait helped people to survive.  One way to combat this bias is to keep a scrap book of positive things you did or experienced. That way you can read that to balance out your memory better.  I can't find the original article anymore, but here's 2 articles on the internet I found just now that indicate similar technique:
Article One - Journaling and sharing can enhance happiness 
Article Two - The memory bias
 Someone mentioned that coping techniques generally for any chronic illness can be useful, so don't just look for articles about thyroid conditions.

Relaxation and exercise are really helpful to people in the discussion group.  Also breathing and meditation were found to be helpful.  Trying to 'be in the moment' was good too.   I mentioned some research I've seen that walking and getting outside in nature is really good for health and mental wellbeing.  There's research indicating the effect of walking can be equivalent to taking antidepressants.  Also a friend of mine and I realised as part of losing weight that the biggest battle with exercise is getting out the door initially.  Once you pass that hurdle you do exercise like walking and you enjoy it - even 5 or 10 minutes is good.  So we thought you have to do whatever you can to facilitate getting out the door - like keep your walking shoes and exercise clothes handy/nearby the door.

Coming back to doctors, people said that doctors generally don't explain enough what could happen with regard to thyroid conditions.  They don't seem to pool knowledge.  Also advice is not holistic - you have to advocate for yourself.

It's also variable how people's conditions are picked up correctly by doctors.  With some patients the doctor figures things out quickly and with others they wait years for the condition to be recognised correctly.  It also makes a big difference if the doctor is supportive. 

There seem to be lots of different opinions amongst different doctors and also lack of follow through by doctors on other related health issues.

When doctors more clearly say what's happening or what to expect with the condition, then the patient feels more psychologically stable because they understand more what is happening to them. 

Sadly  some doctors  don't seem to be concerned about quality of life for patients with thyroid condition.  Also thyroid conditions are not viewed as a major illness. 

Lastly, it was noted that the group on Saturday is really rare and very treasured by attendees.

Monday, 13 May 2013

Patient led workshops, how we did it....

We held a meeting at the Royal Free in Hampstead on 11th May 2013. We called it Patients Voices and we had about 35 thyroid patients attending, with a range of thyroid conditions and varying levels of experience and knowledge about them. Most were London based but others travelled from as far afield as the Lake District and Liverpool.

some of the volunteers (patients and friends) who made this event happen:
clockwise from top left: Theresa, Lorraine, Claire and Karen
We now have an excellent format for these kinds of meetings which you are welcome to copy if you want to do something similar yourself. Here is the programme:
British Thyroid Foundation support meeting, 11th May 2013 
10am – Registration and refreshments 
10:05Introductions – Who are we with thyroid disease?
·       Everyone is invited to sit together in a circle and share: our names, how we found out about this event and what we are hoping to talk about today, those who wish to can also share what thyroid condition we may have and how we are feeling today.    
11:15 Relaxation session – those who wish to are invited to participate in a short guided meditation before the break. 
11:20 – Announcements 
11:25 – Break, refreshments will be served and you are invited to choose a breakout discussion group to join after the break 
11:50 – Discussion groups – we will break into smaller groups to explore those issues which have been identified as being of most interest. Eg: Psychological Wellbeing, Getting the most out of our doctors / Managing symptoms...Questions for future speaker topics etc.   
12:40– 1pm The groups will feed back on the key things they discussed and any actions they have agreed which they’d like to share with everyone, for inclusion in a report for the British Thyroid Foundation website and Lorraine’s blog.
1pm – close   
In the first session we identified several common themes that were of interest to most of us and so the discussion groups after the break were as follows:
  • Diet and Lifestyle
  • Psychological Wellbeing
  • T3 - what's it all about? And how do we access reliable health information?
  • How to get the most out of our doctors
  • Spotting and managing Symptoms
We used volunteer facilitators from within the group who had appropriate skills and had agreed in advance to lead the break out discussions.

Each discussion was lively and fruitful. I will be sharing the notes from each of them in posts to follow.

Patients Voices on Psychological Wellbeing discussion notes are now here.

Patients Voices on Managing Symptoms due to go live shortly:

Comments welcome and please share these posts with anyone you think might find them helpful, whether they are a patient or a healthcare professional.