Thursday, 24 July 2014

Outpatients and inpatients: clinics and wards

Groombridge Place, June 2013
The consultant-led clinics have been a bit like a roller coaster for a week or two. One of our regular consultants has been ill, and sometimes another doctor has provided cover, and sometimes the admin staff have had to try and contact everyone to cancel at short notice, and sometimes patients have turned up and been seen or not seen depending on who's available and what's needed.

For one particularly busy pump clinic (where patients with Type 1 Diabetes who are using insulin pumps usually spend much more time with the Diabetes Specialist Nurse than in most clinics), we only had one DSN, and the consultant delegated the clinic to two subordinates, neither of whom was familiar with how to manage a patient using a pump. This meant that the poor DSN had to support the doctors as well as trying to do her own job. The whole thing provided a pretty unsatisfactory experience for the patients - none of whom complained, despite having to wait ages.

The whole scenario was relayed back to the consultant, who overcompensated the following week by bringing three doctors with him. Unfortunately we don't have enough rooms in the building to house all these doctors as well as ourselves, and consequently neither the DSNs nor I were able to see patients and we had to squeeze into rooms occupied by researchers and secretaries. There were also far fewer patients booked into this clinic than the previous week, which meant all these doctors had long gaps between patients. At one point, a patient with a baby and a toddler was dealing with a nappy change in the room I was in, and the only place left for me to sit was in the waiting room.

This is unusual - most of the time the clinics run pretty efficiently and on time, and most times I get to see the people I think I should be seeing. I have taken to advertising the very low carbohydrate lifestyle with a few posters on the wall, and flyers given to the patients that I think might benefit. This has rustled up a few candidates, and I am starting to build towards a group that can meet regularly to share experiences and recipes and generally keep each other motivated. There are plenty of others who don't need or want to follow that diet, and I am still seeing new people all the time. It is always very interesting, even if I sometimes end a consultation thinking that I could have done better. There are plenty where I feel I did well.

And in between all this interesting and rewarding outpatient contact, for the last five weeks I have had to spend a day a week on the wards. I've disliked this type of dietetic work from the start, and now I've come to hate it. I would rather spend hours with a recalcitrant diabetic who has no intention of taking any advice from me or anyone else while ignoring spiralling blood glucose, than 15 minutes trying to get a confused malnourished inpatient to drink a sickly sweet milky supplement because that's all we have to offer. I would rather be resigned to the inevitability of diabetic-related complications than despair at the likelihood of hospital-acquired pneumonia.

I have enormous respect for the nurses and healthcare assistants on the wards, who are frequently doing three or four things at the same time, often unpleasant and involving bodily fluids or orifices or both, and who listen to me with patience and good humour even while I'm telling them what they already know. But despite my regard for ward staff and their dedication to doing the best they can, the institutional setting thwarts most of their best efforts. I heard today about a patient with Type 1 Diabetes - elderly, frail - who kept having hypos while in hospital, so the doctor stopped their insulin. Just stopped it. Two days later, the patient had to be transferred to the main hospital for life-saving treatment in intensive care.

Our health service is amazing - the care that is offered without additional payment in NHS establishments is incredible. But I would do almost anything to avoid having to spend even one night in a hospital ward.

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