We’re off to see the Wizard … or at least to Future of Health Conference 2014

November 20, 2014 at 4:15 pm | Posted in arthrits, rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia, joint pai, Me, rheumatoid arthritis (RA) | 1 Comment
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I’m on my way to the bright lights, big city of London for the Future of Health Conference 2014. And if Simon Stevens can pull off his Five-Year Forward View then he will indeed be a Wizard – and not just a Wizard of Oz.

The plan has a lot of good things. One is a focus on prevention – something really fairly new to the NHS if they’re going to take it seriously, not just say ‘Do you smoke? Do you want to stop?’ when you go for your flu jab at the GP, so that they can claim their smoking prevention bonus!

Then there’s a focus on patients gaining control of their own care. Sounds great – but what does it actually mean? Maybe I’ll find out on the train down as this is my planned reading matter.

Then they want to break down barriers in the NHS e.g. between GPs and hospitals, doctors and social services etc. Well I don’t think that’s anything new on the wish list front – it remains to be seen whether they can actually change deeply embedded cultures to get it done!

GPs are going to be given the option to combine with other specialists, e.g. mental health and social care, to form ‘Multispecialty Community Providers’. Hang on – isn’t this just the old consortium idea under a fancy new name? Sprinkle a little magic name dust over an old idea and see if it blooms into a beautiful new service.

There’s other stuff too – if you’re interested go and read my planned reading material link above – but those are the bits that resonate with me.

This tweet by the King’s Fund, an independent charity focussing on improving UK healthcare, focuses on where the money’s going to come from – always  a good question in the NHS, and even more so in this economic climate!

Part of the new plan involves ‘managing demand’ and while I’m not sure  I agree with everything in the link below, there are some good points, and some points I haven’t quite got my head around yet.

I can’t help thinking managing resources (not just human resources) and managing burnout should also be high on the agenda.

This is certainly not just an American issue. It’s something we patients see all the time. It’s also not just in doctors. Some of my previous posts about nurse practitioners and even physiotherapists would suggest that it’s ‘health care professional burnout’ that needs to be a concern, and is ladling on more models and targets etc. actually going to help with this? I doubt it.

And this from the King’s Fund again:

It’s suggesting that the NHS has too many doctors and not enough support staff including nurses, considering that the new plans focus on integrating more and using nurses for EVEN MORE stuff. I’m ambivalent about whether that’s such a great idea anyway, but if it’s going to happen then how could the NHS have predicted and trained the right number of doctors/nurses given that a) some bright spark comes in and shakes up the NHS every 3-4 years so no one can plan anything anyway and b) medical schools aren’t going to stop training doctors because they’re funded on how many doctors they train …

It makes my brain hurt! I’m so glad I’m not Simon Stevens. Good luck Mr Wizz. See you on Friday at the Future of Health Conference. 

 

 

But what if …

May 17, 2013 at 8:47 pm | Posted in arthrits, rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia, joint pai, Me, rheumatoid arthritis (RA) | 13 Comments
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So I’m increasing my methotrexate. Flippers crossed that all will go well, I won’t get any nasty side effects (except maybe appetite loss, which would actually be a great benefit!) and it’ll keep my disease in control for at least another five years … but what if it doesn’t?

Well I asked my consultant this at my last appointment. He’d said, ‘I’m happy to increase your methotrexate to 17.5 and then to 20 but after that we’ll have to start considering other things if that isn’t doing the trick’.

So I asked him point blank what other things? ‘Oh’ he said airily, ‘there are lots of other things available.’ Well it’s now or never I thought and said what’s been on my mind for a while: ‘I know about biologics, but I won’t qualify for them on the NHS, will I?’ He looked a bit startled and then had to admit that no, I didn’t stand a chance. With my fabulous blood results that never show anything wrong, I’ve got no chance of being offered them at all at the moment.

So … where would I go if the methotrexate doesn’t work or causes problems? Well, I can add sulfasalazine to the mix and see if that does any good. ‘Some people are on three DMARDs’ said the consultant, but even he didn’t sound really convinced about it.

So what it boils down to is that with the usual NHS foresight, if the methotrexate increase doesn’t work and then the sulfasalazine doesn’t work, I would have to wait until I was in a really bad way, unable to work, probably unable to walk (given that feet and knee are the worst bits of me) before they’d even deign to consider me for other treatments. As usual, let’s not make the effort to keep people OK and working – let’s wait until they’re falling apart before helping, even though surely doing it that backwards way doubtless ends up costing ‘the system’ more in the end!

Well, back to crossing those flippers and hoping it never comes to that!

Niggles and Grumbles

February 13, 2013 at 10:02 pm | Posted in arthrits, rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia, joint pai | 6 Comments
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I’ve got grumbley hands and feet. I’m not sure that I’d use this description to the rheumatologist mind you, but it seems to fit. I’m not in agony; in fact,I’m not even in constant pain, but if I overdo it then the hands and feet … and knee of course, how could I forget the knee … grumble!

I’ve been getting a lot more grumbling going on over the last few weeks than I’ve had for ages. I think it all started with the flare that I had between Christmas and New Year, and there have been niggles ever since.

It doesn’t seem to matter what I’m doing – and in fact my hands have been better today, back at work and typing, than they were over the four-day weekend I’ve just had. (Fabulous birthday weekend away, but that’s a whole ‘nother story!)

At least I’m not grumbling much about work right now – we’ve had two weeks of it being dead quiet, and now it’s gone manically busy! It would be lovely it was a constant steady flow, but I’m much happier with it busy and buzzing than dead as a dodo.

Well, I don’t have a rheumatology appointment until May, and things are nowhere near bad enough to make me subject myself to one earlier, so I suppose by then the grumbles will either have done what they usually do miraculously in time for a rheumy appointment, disappeared – or they’ll be bad enough that I’ll be able to have a proper grumble to the doc about them! In the meantime I shall just grin and bear it … or possibly grumble and bear it.

Polly’s Adventures in NHS Wonderland

July 3, 2012 at 8:27 am | Posted in arthrits, rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia, joint pai, Me, rheumatoid arthritis (RA) | 4 Comments
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Something’s going on. Call me a nasty, suspicious, cynical penguin, but this just isn’t normal. I went for my routine rheumatology check – you know, the one where they say, ‘Oh go away – we’re not interested in you.  Call those symptoms? Ha! I see people in a much worse state than you every day!’ (As though that has anything to do with the price of fish.) But this time it was different …  It started off with the usual intro as though we’d never met before, but this time, as I looked at her blankly, she actually said, ‘Oh – we’ve met before, haven’t we?’ Then she looked at the notes – yes, the ones she’d taken in with her five minutes before she called me in, but obviously hadn’t read, and went, ‘Oh yes, I saw you last time.’

OK, not an auspicious start, but nevertheless, better than expected. But here’s where it gets weird. She asked how I was. I said fine. She said ‘scale of 1 to 10’ and I said ‘1’. She looked blank. ‘Well, is there anything you want to ask me?’

‘No, not really.’

‘Well … is there anything I can do for you?’

‘You can say, “You’re fine. Go away and come back next year,” and then I’ll do that.’

‘Yes, but … I mean surely … ‘

What’s going on here – you usually can’t wait to see the back of me.

‘I know – you haven’t had any x-rays for ages. We ought to check there’s nothing going on below the surface that we’re unaware of.’

Really – I was diagnosed in 2007. In 2009 I mentioned x-rays and how the guidance said they should be done a year afterwards and then every so many years – but it was poo-pooed. ‘No, you’re fine. We see worse people …’ etc.

I haven’t had any x-rays done since and it hasn’t worried anyone.

‘Good heavens, do you know, you haven’t had any x-rays done since you were diagnosed!’

‘Yes, I know.’

‘Well I really think you should have them done. I know it’s inconvenient coming in specially and I know they’re a bit of a pain, but I really think …’

‘Fine. I’m happy to come in.’

‘Oh!’

And then, to make matters even more Alice-down- a-rabbit-hole, she said they could arrange the x-rays to fit in with another appointment I had, to save on trips in. Hang on – when has the hospital ever put itself out to help its out-patients? This is new – but I’m not complaining.

Stupidly, Alice never encountered a penguin, so here she is with a flamingo

Stupidly, Alice never encountered a penguin, so here she is with a flamingo

Of course, in the next couple of days the universe got itself back on track. The appointment for x-rays arrived, on a completely different day to my other appointment and at an impossible time two days from when the letter arrived.

Ah – that’s more like the NHS I know and love, I thought. But wait … I emailed them (yes, they’re now so far into the modern age you can email them, woohoo) and said, ‘Sorry, can’t make that, but I will be in the hospital on this date for this appointment. Can you fit round it?’ And wha’-do-ya-know – they actually did!

So … did it work? Did they fit in? Did I run late for the next appointment? For answers to all these questions and more, you’ll have to wait for the next exciting episode of … Polly’s Adventures in NHS Wonderland.

The joys of a winter routine hospital appointment

December 23, 2011 at 9:03 pm | Posted in Me, rheumatoid arthritis (RA) | 1 Comment
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I really hate the winter half of my six-monthly hospital appointments. I suppose it could be worse. I have the nurse practitioner visit (usually bad) in summer (not so bad), and the consultant or registrar visit (usually OK) in winter (not so good), so you could say it balances out. I have just had my visit to the register – a very nice young lady who, while obviously struggling with the basics of the English language, still clearly had an excellent grasp of autoimmune diseases! It took rather a long time to find any of that out though.

At the risk of sounding like one of those very bad school essays (‘What I did on my holidays: I got up at 4am. Mummy was cross and said go back to bed. I got up again at 6am. We left the house at 7am. We arrived in Wales at 11:30 am’ etc.) here’s why I hate the winter appointment. I left work at 10:15 for what should have been an approximately half-hour drive to the hospital for an appointment a bit after 11. Why leave such a long time? Because it’s December. The weather was a bit rubbish and if you have an appointment you can guarantee to get stuck behind something slow. I did. Then there’s the car parking – always fun. I struck gold in the third car-park I tried. As you can imagine, after driving round three car parks, all for several minutes, I was starting to cut it fine, but as soon as I reached the Rheumatology Department I realised I need not have worried. The waiting room was heaving! I handed in my appointment letter, took my seat and waited … and waited … and waited. The usual charmless nurselet called me in, did the ‘weigh and wee’ and then I got sent to the equally busy inner weighting room … where I waited … and waited … and waited.

After about an hour a nurse came out and wrote next to my consultant’s name on the notice board ‘running one hour late’. Twenty-five minutes or so after that, I finally got seen. Fortunately I’d taken in a good book. Unfortunately, as it wasn’t so cold as last year, and they were probably even more short-staffed, no one offered us a drink. I hadn’t had time for a drink on arrival because it was time to check in, so I was a bit parched.

Useful appointment with nice registrar followed, which culminated in a further referral (who knows where, who knows when … but no hurry, nothing urgent!) and a blood test. ‘Will you give me a form so that I can get the test at my GP?’ I asked. ‘No, no,’ she said, no doubt intending to be most helpful, ‘you have it here. Just go to the blood test department …’

So, by now thirsty and pretty peckish too, but thinking I’d better get this done before heading for a café, I went and found the blood test department. Guess what? The waiting room was heaving AGAIN. That’s another reason for hating the December appointment. People get ill in the winter!

I went up to reception and got a ticket – 73. The number just called was 63. Only ten, I thought. Surely it won’t be that long. ‘What’s the waiting time likely to be, just roughly?’ I asked the receptionist. ‘Hmm,’ she said. ‘Could be up to 45 minutes … but it might be much quicker.’ Aaaaaaaaaaaargh. 45 minutes? Aaaaaaaaaaargh! And we were so busy at work too. So I phoned the duty junior penguin at work and went ‘Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaargh’ down the phone at her. (It’s in the job description – ‘be prepared to listen to senior penguin going aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaargh periodically’.)

As it turned out though, the queue did go down quickly. All of a sudden they were charging through people and I was the only one left, and then my number came up, and in I went to be processed. (It did feel a bit like that this time, but given the numbers they were having to get through, I can’t really blame them!)

And so back home, stuck behind another slow lorry most of the way and then, somewhat peculiarly, a slow ambulance!  I eventually got back into work at around 2.15.

Four hours out of work: total time with medical staff, approximately 15 minutes. Frustration factor: high.

Merry Christmas, Felis Navidad, Feliz Natal and Happy Chanukah to all.

End of the line for physio?

June 26, 2010 at 4:04 pm | Posted in arthrits, rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia, joint pai, fibromyalgia, Me, rheumatoid arthritis (RA) | 2 Comments
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OK, here’s the thing – the geniuses at my local NHS physo department (or should that be genii?) have decreed that in order to ‘be in line with the private sector’ they will only give any patient a maximum of six appointments before they kick them out. (The last three words are, of course, my terminology and not theirs!)

I asked Lovely Physio how this was ‘in line with the private sector’, as I had had to have quite a bit of private treatment before I got into the NHS programme and oddly enough they hadn’t been anxious to see the back of me after six appointments. No surprise there – I was paying them. Why would they want to be shot of me? She said something like, ‘I have no idea, but that’s how they’re presenting it to us!’

I suspect the idea is that by ignoring the fact that there are people with chronic conditions who can benefit enormously from regular therapy and pretending that everyone they see can be ‘cured’ in six appointments, they can massage their figures by getting the waiting list down from the current five weeks to a more ‘in line with the private sector’ one to three weeks.

The complexity of the system emerges from the fact that it’s general practitioner budget that pay for this treatment, but once you were being treated, until now, it was up to each physio to decide when and if to discharge. The GPs had little or no say, but they had to pay. So the idea is that you now have your maximum of six appointments and then go back to the GP if you feel you need to still see a physio, to get re-referred, as I mentioned in the previous post. The GP can, of course, say no. I suspect if I see the one that knows me she would say yes … we’ll have to wait and see, but even if she does we’re looking at a five-week waiting list right now.

One silver lining in the cloud – they have an SOS system whereby if I need to see my physio in the next couple of months I can phone and make an appointment saying I’m on the ‘SOS list’. I can then go in under that and have maybe six appointments then before getting kicked out! Hopefully I won’t need to see her in the next two months, but last time I thought that I only lasted three weeks …

Unfortunately I feel I have very little fight in me at the moment – I don’t know if that might be something to do with the thyroid issues i might or might not have, but that’s the way it is!

Phew – coming out of a flare!

February 19, 2010 at 2:28 pm | Posted in rheumatoid arthritis (RA) | 3 Comments
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At last I’m on my way out of a rather prolonged flare! While I’m sure that my consultant would be pleased to point out that it wasn’t much of a flare – I mean I didn’t even need a steroid shot – it was quite enough of one for me, thank you!

I had a very good birthday this year, in spite of being in the middle of the flare. Hubby had the day off too, which he doesn’t often manage, or at least not to coincide with mine, and we had a leisurely morning in Norwich including a trip to the Castle Museum and lunch at ‘The Waffle House’. Because of the whole flare thing we decided to come straight after an early lunch and I spent the afternoon lounging around in bed reading some of the many great books (mostly embroidery-related) that I’d got for presents, before heading off to Mum’s for a yummy meal in the evening. While I’d have liked to have been able to DO more on my birthday, it was still a jolly good day!

I suppose at least I’m finally learning to pace myself. Talking of which, the OT is NOT in my good books at the moment. I drove for forty minutes in stinking traffic through rain and hail and sleet and snow and fog (and semi-darkness for part of it) to get to my OT appointment only to be told, ‘She’s gone home’. Luckily for both of us I suppose a) I like her and b) I know she wouldn’t do that deliberately and c) she phoned and apologised profusely this morning.

I told her she could make it up to me by fitting me in between physio and a hair appointment next week, which she is doing. I shall come away feeling thoroughly pampered after all that: not quite a luxury spa treatment, and believe me, our local hospital doesn’t bear much resemblance to a luxury spa, but the closest I’m likely to get to one for a while!

NICE fiddles while RA burns a hole in the economy and our joints

January 30, 2010 at 12:00 pm | Posted in arthrits, rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia, joint pai, Me, rheumatoid arthritis (RA) | 5 Comments
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I got my shiny new NRAS magazine through the post today. Great to see an article by Rheumatoid Arthritis Guy in there! Well done RA Guy! But there’s always something in there to get me aeriated, and the first magazine of 2010 was no exception!

Interesting also to see a two-page spread on the ‘European Fit for Work Report’. Frankly, I’m not sure there were that many surprises in there, although I was a bit surprised at the number of people who become ‘work disabled’. Apparently 40% leave work altogether within 5 years of diagnosis, which is not happy reading. However, it appears that the main reason for this is people being diagnosed and treated too late or incorrectly. The report recommended ‘new and more inclusive methods to evaluate the cost-effectiveness of treating musculo-skeletal diseases in particular; one that considers more than the up-front costs of medical expenditure and incorporates wider social and economic factors.’ No kidding. In other words, this report recommends doing exactly what NICE doesn’t do. The article goes on to say that ‘NICE in the UK has already begun such a deliberation, although no decision has been reached to date.’ No surprise there then!

Now, my honorable friends, please turn to page 12 of your NRAS magazine. Don’t have one? Not to worry – here’s the headline: ‘People on Enbrel stay in work longer’. It goes on to state that a 500-person study (the COMET study if anyone’s inclined to look it up) showed that those with active early RA were three times less likely to stop working if treated with MTX and Enbrel, rather than MTX alone. Absenteeism was also reduced by almost 50% for those on the combination therapy. But here’s the rub – NICE won’t allow anyone to start on a combination therapy like this until they have been proved unresponsive to at least two other DMARDS including methotrexate … so when does early stop being early? It takes, I would think from my own experience, at least six months to show that a DMARD is not working for you, because it can take them that long to start working. So you’re diagnosed (probably not immediately), you’re given a DMARD if you’re lucky, perhaps hydroxychloroquine, for six months; it doesn’t work. You try MTX (either on its own or in combination with HCQ) for another six months. That doesn’t work either. You’ve now been diagnosed for at least a year. Is this still early enough to count for this study? Perhaps it is. If so, fair enough. If not then are NICE ruining people’s chances of staying healthy yet again. I don’t know the answer – I just pose the question.

And finally to a little article by a brave lady called Jean Burke, who works with NICE to provide a patient viewpoint in their deliberations. Rather her than me but I am full of admiration. Apparently she was asked by a member of an appraisal committee ‘Surely a twenty percent increase in quality of life isn’t worth bothering about?’ Well, I suppose that’s why they need the patient viewpoint. If you’re reading this blog as someone with RA I imagine you’ll see it her way immediately; I know I did. She points out that if the extra 20% means she can make a cup of tea in the morning, go to work or walk to the shops then yes, it’s worth it!

So long as NICE remains in its ivory tower, untouched by all these deliberations about the socioeconomic effects of diseases and so on, I simply cannot see how the system can ever work effectively.

The hidden costs of even mild R.A.

January 15, 2010 at 11:11 am | Posted in rheumatoid arthritis (RA) | 6 Comments
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I’m part of the Norfolk Arthritis Register (NOAR) study, which is an epidemiological study around rheumatoid arthritis. They look into all sorts of things, physical, mental and social, that affect R.A. patients, from an epidemiological standpoint – i.e. they look at lots of us and then see what the statistics say. In spite of the old ‘lies, damn lies and statistics’ quote, they produce some very interesting results.

One of the bits of research they did, before I was involved, was around the hidden costs of R.A. and it’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. Even mild R.A. leads to an extraordinary amount of hidden costs, even in this country with our ‘free healthcare’. I’m trying to compile a list of those hidden costs for someone like me with mild R.A. – I’d be interested in any additions people might think of, so please comment if any come to mind! Later on, when I have the list as complete as I can make it, I’m going to try and price it. I think that might be quite frightening.

Here’s what I’ve got so far:

  • Over the counter medications such as paracetamol, stomach settlers etc. not prescribed by the doc
  • Time off work due to sickness
  • Time of work to attend hospital appointments (consultant, nurse, physio, OT etc.)
  • Travel costs to attend hospital, since I live in a rural area and hospitals are 30 miles for consultant/nurse and ten miles or so for OT/physio.
  • Aids such as jar openers, tin openers etc. (Some of these are free through OT services, some aren’t.) I have compression gloves from OT for instance, but they’re starting to get a bit baggy/stretchy after less than a week, so I might invest in some good quality ones!
  • An occasional one only, but cost of trips etc. cancelled due to a flare!

I’m sure there are more – will add them as I think of them or as people comment with suggestions! Some, like cost of transport because one can’t drive, I haven’t included because they haven’t actually happened to me so far!

I wish I could live in the dream world my consultant inhabits

December 27, 2009 at 11:03 pm | Posted in rheumatoid arthritis (RA) | 2 Comments
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It’s official – I had a flare at the end of October/early November … and more, I suspect. No kidding. I think I knew that, but this time it actually showed in the bloods! That’s a first for me!! I’ll give the consultant his due though – he was as amazed as I was that the bloods actually matched with how I’d felt, so he does at least appreciate that one can feel totally lousy and have no indication in the blood tests whatsoever, and vice versa.

Anyway, we agreed that things were going pretty well at the moment and that it didn’t seem sensible to go on increasing the MTX willy-nilly if things were OK. I explained that I knew I was much, much better than last time I’d seen him (which I think was well over a year ago, as I’ve since seen a registrar and a nurse but not the man himself), but that they certainly weren’t perfect, and for the first time he admitted that I probably wasn’t going to achieve perfect … I’d kinda figured that out, but still a slight blow to hear him say it!

He then cheerily added that never mind, compared to what he usually saw I really wasn’t bad at all. He has no idea just how bloody irritating this comment is – he’s said it before. I think last time I was too dazed and generally fed up to actually respond, but this time I was properly prepared and I pointed out that I wasn’t comparing myself with his other patients – I was comparing myself to myself before this whole R.A. business started, and that when I do that I don’t see my current self in a terribly favourable light. The nurse who sits in with him (as a chaperon and to make sure he remembers to fill all his forms in!) was nodding sympathetically and understandingly behind his back. I got the feeling she’d heard this comment from him before and had thought exactly what I was now saying. Anyway, he sort of blinked a bit, looked rather surprised at being answered back to and mumbled something that was vaguely conciliatory … I think.

Then he bid me to enter his dream world by saying, “If the MTX doesn’t keep things under control, if you have another flare, we’ll put you on these terribly expensive new drugs called biologics or anti-TNFs.” (He does tend to forget I have a brain.)

I snorted – very rude, but it just sort of happened! I said something like, “Have to be one hell of a flare for the NHS to let me on to those!”

“Oh no,” says he, “just an ordinary sort of flare.”

Well, that’s certainly not the impression I’ve been given by the NRAS magazine, the people on the NRAS forum (other R.A. sufferers, generally in a much worse state than me, who have failed the ‘DAS test’ for anti-TNFs), the press, people I met in Barcelona, the nurse practitioner, the GP, the practice nurse … just about everyone else really. Since this is the man that told me I should see him in three months last time, when it was totally impossible for anyone to get an appointment closer than six months, and the man who told me that all I needed to do if I had a flare was phone and I’d get straight through to someone on the helpline (not true as it’s usually unmanned and then they don’t call you back) I don’t feel too filled with faith about the biologics comment either! I dare say though that his “ordinary sort of flare” would be the ordinary sort of flare that his other patients have, not my little fizzle!

Well, hopefully the MTX will now do its job properly and I won’t need to ever find out whether he’s living in a dream world or I’m just being unnecessarily pessimistic about my prospects for biologics!

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