Hospital appointment – only 7 months late

November 20, 2015 at 9:27 am | Posted in rheumatoid arthritis, rheumatoid arthritis (RA) | 13 Comments
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I’ve just had my April hospital appointment – well, it was supposed to be in April – then they moved it to June .. then they moved it to August … then they moved it to September … then they moved it to November… but this time it didn’t get cancelled. Right, I thought, I’ve seen no one at the rheumy department in 13 months, I’m going to make a LIST of things that I need to ask about, ’cause my memory’s shot. I know doctors hate lists but when you have to wait 13 months for an appointment you don’t want to forget anything, right? Right! Shame I forgot that I’d made the list then, and consequently forgot to ask about the dry mouth, although I think I covered everything else… except memory problems of course. I don’t think a rheumy clinic is going to be that interested in my forgetfulness anyway!

Everything else was more pain and stiffness in the hands and feet than previously, two nasty flares in my knees over the past year and a lump on my finger.

For the first two, my methotrexate has gone up to 20mg from 17.5mg. The nice boy (sorry, young man – I’m getting old, all the registrars look like children to me) was slightly horrified that I started off eight years ago on 5mg (or possibly 7.5mg) as they’re now much more aggressive and he said they’d never start anyone on less than 15mg so really 20mg is nothing. He also said if stomach upsets were a problem them can move me over to a self-injecting pen. I wasn’t too keen on that idea – I’ve only had two or three stomach upsets over the year that MIGHT have related to MTX and it’s possible that none of them did – I have a dodgy tummy anyway!

For the lump on the finger, he said since it was on my left middle finger and I’m left-handed it was probably just where I rested a pen. I said, ‘Who writes these days?! I almost never hold a pen! I type everything,’ to which he laughed, agreed and basically said, ‘Dunno’. It’s not painful and it’s not growing alarmingly so ‘dunno’ is fine for the moment!

The ridiculousness of the DAS score was brought home to me yet again. As the nice boy put it, ‘You might as well be amputated below the knee as far as that’s concerned’ and one of my main problems is feet! Daft! It also included a rating of how has the RA been THIS WEEK. Who gives a monkeys about this week – I haven’t seen anyway for 13 MONTHS! He took that on board too, bless him, and although I scored ‘low disease activity’ with four sore joints and pretty good thank you for this week, he accepted that my RA wasn’t under control if I’d had two bad flares this year; hence the MTX increase.

He also said if the appointments started slipping again, I should phone reception and point it out and they’d stop it happening – my faith in reception, on a score from 1 to 10 – zero. Not that I really think it’s their fault – they’re just the front line when it keeps happening and I phone up and say ‘Oy’ and they say, ‘Not our fault,’ which it’s not!

Anyway, I’ve got a nurse practitioner appointment in February – let’s see how much that gets moved – not that I need it in February – May would be more sensible, but I’m hesitant to cancel!!


December 12, 2014 at 12:03 pm | Posted in arthrits, fibromyalgia, joint pai, Me, rheumatoid arthritis, rheumatoid arthritis (RA) | 2 Comments
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Well, I meant to write this post about biosimilars weeks ago, but alas, I came back from London and fairly quickly went down with a really bad cold, which I’m still getting over now! It was bad enough, combined with the methotrexate/immunosuppression, to require antibiotics for the secondary infection and it hit chest and sinusses at the same time, so I’ve been feeling pretty poorly!

Luckily Clare at NRAS had asked to write a brief report about the conference for them – on slightly more serious lines than my last post, and I did that pretty much straight away after coming back, before the cold hit, and that included something about the biosimilars, which I’m going to reproduce here. So here we go:

The next talk I attended was ‘Biosimilars: realising the opportunity for the NHS and patients’. Biologic patents are soon to run out. Biosimilars are biologics too, but they are designed to be as similar as possible to the molecules of already successful biologics, reducing the need for as much expensive primary research as went into the original biologics. As they are not identical, and as these molecules are extraordinarily complex, they will still need to go through, and some are already going through clinical trials, because, as Professor Peter Taylor said in his talk, ‘minor structural differences can have disproportionately large effects in patients’.  However, there is a lack of education around biosimilars both among patients and clinicians, not to mention commissioners, so their introduction into the NHS could be a complex matter.

At the last minute there were no patients speaking in this talk due to some obscure ruling to do with the pharmaceutical company involved only speaking on panels with medically trained people.

First, Professor Peter Taylor, Norman Collison Chair of Musculoskeletal Science, Nuffield Department of Orthopaedics, Rheumatology and Musculoskeletal Sciences, University of Oxford, gave a very clear and concise outline of what a biosimilar was. Carol Roberts, PresQIPP Director on NHS involvement in biosimilars was keen to reassure that ‘value’ was based on outcome and not just on price, although biosimilars could be a huge saving to the NHS, £3.8 million. (Actually given NHS budgets that didn’t sound that huge to me, but every little helps!) People with RA on biologics now will probably be pleased to hear that the intention at the moment is to only put new patients onto biosimilars, not to take people off biologics that are working for them and move them onto the cheaper drugs. Janice Mooney, Senior Lecturer in Primary Care, University of East Anglia and senior Rheumatology Nurse Practitioner, pointed out that all clinicians need to be educated in biosimilars, not just patients and consultants. Given that patients may only see a consultant once a year (or less) this is obviously essential!

There was some concern among patients in the room about safety, although to me biosimilars do seem like the logical next step in medication of RA – another audience member pointed out that there was a massive trust issue between patients and the NHS with a feeling that the NHS always went for price above effectiveness, which led to a feeling that if something was cheaper it couldn’t be as good. One person even wondered if there could be a backlash against these similar to that of GM foods a few years ago, if the press wasn’t properly educated. Janice Mooney responded that this was a key area where education was required. David Taylor pointed out that clinical trials were not enough to guarantee safety, due to rare risks, because of the small number of people involved in trials, so that safe and responsible introduction of the new drugs was also essential.

From my own persona point of view, and of course this didn’t get added into my serious report for NRAS, I’d just like to say ra ra ra, go biosimilars … especially as i might be needing them in a few years’ time!

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. 



A bit of an update – I can’t believe it’s been so long!

October 15, 2014 at 1:35 pm | Posted in arthrits, rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia, joint pai, Me, rheumatoid arthritis (RA) | 4 Comments
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I can’t believe I haven’t posted since June. I wish I could say that that’s because I had nothing, RA-wise, to post about, but that wouldn’t be strictly true. In fact throughout June, July and August I probably did have ALMOST nothing to post about, but, although I’ve kept off those dratted antiinflmmatatories, things aren’t quite so hot now.

It’s just little niggly things at the moment – niggly knees mostly, as it always is with me, plus waking up in the night and finding my right-hand index finger is very stiff and very painful. I have a horrible feeling this relates to my increase in crocheting lately, and I’m wondering if I’ll be able to complete my Diploma in Crochet … although thankfully there’s no time limit so if it takes me a week to crochet a 4″ square, so be it!

And talking of crafts, I’ve just been to the Knitting and Stitching Show at Alexander Palace – a 3.5 hour journey there, mostly by coach, a 4 hour journey back (due to the coach almost breaking down but managing to limp to our drop-off point in the end!) and a loooong day browsing the exhibitions (so-so), trade stands (fabulous yearly treat for a rural type with few local craft shops!) and enjoying a workshop too (Dorset button making). We went on the Friday and it knocked me FLAT for the rest of the weekend but it was worth it!

I also had my hospital appointment not long ago. To my astonishment it went very well – they called us in individually, so again we didn’t have to line up like ducklings behind the mother-duck nurse, and there was a new rheumy nurse there (well, new to me, and young) who was absolutely delightful – she hasn’t had the soft, caring side knocked out of her by working too long for too little and too many hours at a time … yet. She was very sympathetic and very helpful about the knees, which were playing up at the time, although more from the medical (go on, have them drained, it’s not that bad – hah, like she’d know!) side than the practical ‘help yourself’ side of exercises, cold compresses etc. And thereby lies, in my non-expert opinion, one of the biggest problems with any giant organisation such as the NHS. It’s inevitable that everyone has their own specialties, but they do tend to get siloed. She didn’t offer me physio – but then again … I didn’t ask. In all honesty I didn’t feel I needed it, and perhaps neither did she! I know how to manage the low-level pain now – sometimes I may need reminding, being a dopey penguin, but I do know!

And that lack of ‘joined up thinking’ leads to the next thing – I got a letter recently asking me to ring the surgery to discuss ‘some blood results from the hospital’. Slightly worrying that – especially as it arrived on a Thursday, I didn’t get it until Thursday night and I was off to London on Friday, so couldn’t ring until Monday. Anyway, I rang on Monday. ‘Oh’ says the doc. ‘They want us to check your cholesterol risk.’ And ‘quite right too’ I hear you say. ‘You’re overweight and you should do something about it and they’re right to be vigilant.’ Well, yes, but here’s the thing … the surgery themselves had just checked my cholesterol about three weeks before and established that I was low risk.

If the nurse at the hospital had asked me about it, instead of sending me off for bloods and not even telling me she was checking that, I could have said, ‘They’ve just done that at the surgery. This is my level, I’m apparently low risk.’ Instead, lovely as she was, she wasted the following resources:

  • A blood sucker (aka phlebotomist)
  • The lab doing the work on the cholesterol
  • The hospital secretary
  • The surgery secretary who sent out the letter
  • The GP who had to call me back and discuss what we’d discussed three weeks before

‘Joined up thinking’ is no longer the buzz phrase of the day, and it sadly didn’t work when it was, but a little bit more of it would be a wonderful thing.

Three-monthly blood tests

November 19, 2013 at 9:56 pm | Posted in arthrits, rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia, joint pai, Me, rheumatoid arthritis (RA) | 7 Comments
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The hospital has decreed that patients on methotrexate for RA no longer need monthly blood tests – they will now be three-monthly instead. Now I don’t have a problem with having my blood tests every three months – as yet I’ve never had a single blip in my tests and if the hospital say three-monthly is safe I suppose I have to believe them and not just assume this is purely a cynical money-saving exercise: ‘Hey, what’s the odd life lost compared to a few thousand pounds saved, eh? Let’s do it! Right lads, down the pub …’

What I do have a problem with is the fact that they can’t book tests three months in advance, and yet we’ve been told to contact the rheumy nurse to make the next appointment. There IS NO WAY to contact her except by making an appointment to see her … a bit of a circular argument! My sensible and lovely nurse realised this straight away and in fact pointed it out to me with a comment on the lines of ‘I’ve told them ALL individually in reception, so don’t take any nonsense if they tell you that you should have booked it through me!’

OK, so that’s hopefully sorted out even before it becomes a problem, but how crazy that we can’t just book the tests when we see the nurse!

The surgery have also arranged monthly ‘walk-in clinic’ tests for the months we don’t see the rheumy nurse … but that’s a whole nuther story … a post to come in a day or so.

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.

How not to run a physiotherapy session!

July 11, 2012 at 9:27 pm | Posted in arthrits, rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia, joint pai, rheumatoid arthritis (RA) | 2 Comments
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Physio: Good morning! So, we’ve been doing acupuncture on your shoulder, yes?

Penguin: <Feathers on end, eyebrows raised> NO!

Physio: Oh … you seem very definite about that.

Penguin: Yes … I am.

Physio: Erm … what have we been doing then?

Penguin: Some exercises and some frictioning [a kind of massage on the tendon]

Physio: Oh yes, and how was that going?

Penguin: Well the frictioning last week really seemed to help.

Physio: Great. Let’s do some more of that then. Now, the exercises, it was this one, with your arm bent, raising up and out, yes?

Penguin: No …

And so went most of the session. Having said all that, she did do the frictioning and it did help, and once we’d established what exercises I was doing, all went relatively smoothly.

THEN she turned on her computer (with my notes on it of course).

What had happened was that I had the first appointment of the day and she’d obviously been running late and thought, ‘Never mind, I’ll wing it.’ So, a word of advice to health practitioners everywhere – don’t! I’m sure it took her longer to find out what she was supposed to be doing than it would have taken to turn on the computer before we started!

NHS wonderland part 2 – peeing in a pot for 24 hours

July 9, 2012 at 9:36 pm | Posted in Me, rheumatoid arthritis (RA) | 3 Comments
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Well, I went for my x-rays – appointment booked half an hour before the dermatology appointment, and it all fitted in fine – I had about fifteen minutes to find the dermatology department once the x-rays were over, and I found it without any problem. All going rather well so far.

Then I waited … and waited … and waited … and waited – but that’s just the way it is. Fortunately I’d remembered to take a good book!

Dermatology lady said she’s fairly sure I haven’t got lupus (hurrah) but I have got rosacea (boo). Unfortunately I’ve been applying gunk to my face for nearly five months now and it’s not going away at all, so the obvious solution seems to be ‘try it a bit longer, and in the meantime we’ll discharge you’. Hmm … thanks a bunch!

Having said that, she was very pleasant, really took her time, asked sensible questions and listened to the answers. For that, I don’t mind waiting a bit!

One of the things she asked was, ‘Do you get night sweats?’ to which the only possible response was, ‘Do I get night sweats! You bet!’ So we talked about the whole ‘early menopause’ thing and the fact that although it started 5 years ago I didn’t seem to actually have gone through menopause and the hormones had never actually been fully investigated.

And that led to the delights involved in the title to this post. ‘I think we should test your hormone levels,’ she said, ‘ but I’m afraid the test is a bit long-winded. It involves a 24-hour urine sample.’ I couldn’t resist the obvious response. ‘I can’t pee for that long!’ Poor lady must have heard that one a few times before but she was very patient with me!

I have to keep all urine I produce over a 24-hour period and put it in a LARGE sample bottle, which I had to collect from the labs in a beautiful LARGE bag with things like, ‘Biohazard’ and ‘warning – dangerous substance’ stamped all over it, as it contains hydrochloric acid to preserve the sample, once the sample is in there. Luckily I had brought a bag for my book and other bits so I just put it inside that – otherwise slightly embarrassing to walk around with.

I haven’t done this test yet as she wisely suggested waiting for a day where I could stay in the house for 24 hours, and there aren’t many of those, but I’m planning to do it soon. Once done, and I’ll finish my 24 hours at 8 0’clock one morning, I have to jump in the car, dash over to the hospital, deliver the sample ‘for immediate testing’ and then dash up to the top of the hospital for a blood test – which should take place straight after the sample is finished – a bit tricky since I live 30 mins or so from the hospital! Never mind – hopefully it’s not THAT critical.

If anything comes out positive/negative/worrying about this test, that’ll mean further referrals etc. as it’s hardly a dermatology issue. It’ll be interesting to find out either way though, as the hot flushes and night sweats are horrendous at the moment and if there is something hormonal going on as shouldn’t be, it would be nice to know!



In the meantime I shall continue to be a ‘ruddy cheeked penguin’ – a rare breed indeed.

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.’


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.

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