Monday, 15 December 2014

Guest article - the real motives behind Shape?

I’d be careful not to go off on the tangents about the sadistic medical narcissists of the 1970s or to blame “The Trendy Educationalists” for these policies. This is driven, top-down, by the government, hence the involvement of lay folk (plus a few of the usual suspect Quisling collaborators from the ranks of the medical politicians). It is driven by the interests of the corporates, who have the politicians in their back pocket. We all dislike the bullying tyrannical consultants of the 1970s & the patient-averse oafs pushing Mickey Mouse reflective learning, but they are not the enemy here.

The aim is to have a very large pool of medics, who have no job security, self-confidence or professional self-respect. They needed to smash the old UK medical firm model to create US/EU-style 'attendings'. The old UK consultant grade had its faults & was by no means perfect. It was suited to the days of “generalism” in the truest (i.e. non-corrupt) sense of the term. Bottle necks & folk, lying in wait for uber-specialised tertiary centre posts, meant that, perversely, it took longer for folks to become sub-specialists, doing a very narrow range of repetitive tasks, than it took people to become generalist consultants. The consultant model was better suited to medicine than some other specialities, it did a lot for my speciality (anaesthetics), raising standards big time. But, it has had its day. The one size fits all MMC approach confused public health training with clinical training. You can randomly allocate a mixed bunch of medics & non-medics to random sequences of QUANGO placements & give them a chit saying they are trained PH specialists after 3 years, you cannot do the same with surgeons. Yet, this is precisely what is being proposed.

The stuff about generalists is despicable. They have realised that subspeciality–ologists don’t do acute medicine & they reckon that scrapping current training pathways to create a pool of accredited generalists will make it easier to staff the few remaining major acutes that will be left when cold sites are sold to private companies, who’ll run them to rake it in from elective surgery. A few doctors will get work in these privatised units, the rest will just end up doing shifts in the major acutes. This is about herding doctors to do skivvy work instead of the work we aspire to.

Expect the medical establishment to make it as difficult as possible for generalists (and existing consultants) to acquire the essential credentials to do any meaningful elective surgery/-ology. Such restrictive practices will suit the corporate subcontractors, who’ll have no problem recruiting medics, with huge student debts & mortgages, who’ll be desperate for scraps of work. Doctors are like scouts, they love acquiring silly badges, without realising how tacky it looks & how their egos are being massaged. It is a con trick. Credentials are barriers, limiting people in what they can do. Fools think they'll do an online course & get the leadership credential, enabling them to lord it over others. Dream on! Things like Breast Surgery will get credentialed, which means that generalist cst-holders wont be able to do it, so they'll have to continue doing shifts at the local major acute, doing back-to-back abscesses & laparotomies. The "Sell" is that this system will enable you to show what you can do. In reality, it will prohibit what you can do & you'll be at the mercy of employers, who'll offer you jobs doing stuff you'd rather not do (shifts in acute surgery) rather than training for the stuff you want to do (major cancer work, bariatrics etc). Create cst oversupply & then limit what cst-holders can do [most elective work]. Suddenly, acute surgery gets a whole lot cheaper!

Remember, the DH know that doctors will always happily kick the ladder away from their younger colleagues. They figure that we'll figure that a new SR grade would be in our interests. It is classic divide & rule. Naturally, the guys doing their PhD in the cell biology of Ca Oesophagus will figure that they will effortlessly become credentialed in upper GI surgery, whilst their younger colleagues will simply become shift-working acute surgeons, doing the "low level" stuff. Please lets not fall for this. They are not redesigning medical careers to cater for some indescribably brilliant doctors, who are head & shoulders above their peers. They are doing this to undermine the profession & make it easier to errode our pay & T&Cs to suit their corporate cronies, who'll end up hiring (and firing) doctors. Wake up!

We need to oppose this & that means jettisoning the traitors in the medical establishment, who’ll try to stifle proper resistance.

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

The Shape of Training - first do no harm Prof Reid?

I have been doing a fair bit of thinking about medical training reform in recent days, things appear to steaming ahead at full speed despite a rather large number of valid concerns that remain totally unaddressed by those pushing Shape through.  I stumbled upon an interview with HEE chief Wendy Reid and it is worth reading.

I think this brief interview succinctly demonstrates a number of crucial problems with those railroading through the review.  Firstly there is a lot of talk of doing good things:

“We’re really pushing forwards saying, ‘Here are explicit ways in which you can become this,’ and that’s where I think we will make a big difference.”

The meaning of such statements is debatable, it is actions that matter as cynics like myself have come to realise after years of seeing harmful reforms being packaged in a sheep's clothing.  Wendy Reid says we need major structural reform to meet the expectation of patients:

Reid says the structure of doctors’ training, which has remained the same for decades, needs to change to keep up with patients’ expectations. “We have doctors training in a system that is pretty much the same as it was in the 1980s when I trained”

This is a total straw man argument.  It is strange to say that our training system has not been changed since the 1980s, perhaps Wendy failed to notice the structural reform of MMC, I do not know.  Anyhow the argument that we need major structural change because we have not had it for a while is incoherent and sloppy.  In medicine 'first do no harm' is a fantastic motto by which to practice which serves one well in many different aspects of life.

As I have summarised in more detail here, the case for major structural reform has not been made by the review and no solid evidence is put forward to justify this needless change for the sake of change.   The reason for 'first do no harm' is that change is expensive, time consuming, disruptive and results in many unintended negative consequences.  The straw man has been exposed, so what are the real motives behind this major structural change Wendy?

Wendy Reid tries to answer "What is the future doctor going to be doing?".  I would suggest that if Shape is implemented then the future will see many quit medicine and emigrate to work in health care systems in which they can be trained to the level of a proper consultant.  Also how does dumbing down the consultant grade meet the expectation of patients?  Do patients want a lower quality service delivered by sub consultants?  Do they want a system of care delivery that traps a large cohort in the sub consultant grade and forces much top talent abroad and out of medicine?  These are the questions I would like Wendy Reid to answer.

Monday, 8 December 2014

Contact your MP to protest against cuts to medical training........

The Shape of Training is a review of doctor training that is currently being forced through despite many significant safety concerns being expressed by the majority of doctors' professional bodies.  If you want your doctors to be trained properly then it is essential that you take the time to write to your MP to express your opinion on this matter, below is a template letter you may use:


I am writing regarding the ‘Shape of Training’ review of doctor training that recently reported and is currently in the process of implementation.  I have grave concerns about several specific recommendations made by the review. 

Firstly the recommendation to shorten the training time of hospital consultants and will create a ‘sub consultant’ grade.  Such a move is incompatible with maintaining high quality patient care and would have a significant negative impact on patient safety.  Secondly moving the point at which doctors register fully with the GMC to medical school graduation is unsafe.  

In addition to these significant concerns surrounding both short and long term harms relating to both doctors and patients, the review has ignored the majority of respondents to its consultation who felt the training of hospital consultants should not be shortened:

most individuals and organisations argued that generalists would require a longer training period or reconstruction of training to capture the breadth of experiences needed to provide competent general care”

As things stand the Shape of Training review’s implementation is incompatible with maintaining high standards in medical education and patient care and as a result I would be very grateful if you could look into what can be done to halt this review's dangerous implementation,

Yours sincerely"

Write to your Royal College or Trainee Organisation

Here is a letter template that I have crafted for anyone to send to their Royal College or trainee organisation.  If you agree that Shape takes medical training in the wrong direction, please take the time to do this, we must hold these organisations to account and tell them what we think. Every little really does help.


I am writing regarding the ‘Shape of Training’ review that recently reported and is currently in the process of implementation.  I have grave concerns about several specific recommendations made by the review. 

Firstly the recommendation to shorten training time before CST that will inevitably lead to the creation of a ‘sub consultant’ grade.  Such a move is incompatible with maintaining high quality patient care and would have a significant negative impact on patient safety.  Secondly moving full GMC registration to medical school graduation is unsafe.  Thirdly the introduction of post-CST ‘credentialing’ is not based on any evidence base and it would lead to serious problems with workforce planning as local employers would be left in control.  Fourthly the combination of a ‘sub consultant’ grade with post CST credentialing controlled by employers would lead to significant staffing issues as a result of its negative impact on staff retention and recruitment.  It will become harder for medicine to attract high quality applicants when a large number of post CST ‘sub consultants’ become trapped in a non-training service delivering graveyard, while currently the recruitment environment is worryingly brittle in many areas.

In addition to these significant concerns surrounding both short and long term harms relating to both doctors and patients, the review has ignored the majority of respondents to its consultation who felt training should not be shortened:

“most individuals and organisations argued that generalists would require a longer training period or reconstruction of training to capture the breadth of experiences needed to provide competent general care”

As things stand the Shape of Training review’s implementation is incompatible with maintaining high standards in medical education and patient care and as a result I urge you to openly reject the review’s implementation.  The failure to withdraw from such a failed process will only be used to by those forcing it through as a signal of tacit approval and this must be avoided at all costs,

Yours sincerely"

Friday, 5 December 2014

The Shape of Training - the Key Issues

I am sure many of you are aware of the small details of the Shape of Training (ShoT) review, however many of you probably are not, therefore I though I would write a brief piece to summarise the key issues in training, how the review has gone about their business and the many issues that have been left completely unanswered.

Firstly medical training was subject to huge structural reform less than ten years ago in the form of Modernising Medical Careers (MMC).  It is worth remembering that history proved MMC was a covert and dishonest attempt by the Department of Health to force through a 'subconsultant grade' through the back door.  This was never admitted before or during MMC, I obtained documents after the event proving that the DH and senior medical leaders had misled doctors and patients by claiming the review was just about 'better training', it clearly was not, it was dressed up as something that it overtly was not.  This context of government dishonesty is hugely important.

The ShoT review was led by a Professor of economics with no medical experience and supported by the GMC, it gathered 'evidence' over 2013 and released its final report at the end of 2013.  It is currently in the process of being implemented by Health Education England and others including the GMC, of note not a single trainee is involved in implementing this reform, ironic that.  Now let us consider the review from a series of angles that any sensible individual would see as vital, let us examine the need and rationale, the evidence, the consultation, the review's recommendations, the views of professional bodies and the future.

The rationale and evidence for major structural change. Firstly it is necessary to move forward and back, the review claimed from the start that it would not necessarily lead to major structural changes, but this is precisely what the review has recommended, major structural changes, and very soon after MMC.  It is clear from the evidence reviewed by the ShoT team that there was no solid evidence to justify major structural change, it is this simple.  Not only that but the evidence gathering appeared biased and the opinions on the evidence predetermined. The argument from some Shape proponents that 'reform is needed' is bogus, reform is always needed as reform is improvement, but this does not justify the negative destructive proposals of Shape.  The current system needs gentle tweaking in some areas, minimal change in others, what was not needed was blanket reform of a major structural nature.  Verdict: inadequate evidence to justify major structural change.

The consultation.  The consultation was poor in many ways.  Firstly the consultation was extremely biased and leading in the way in which questions were asked to respondents.  Shape deliberately tried to push people into certain boxes with their answers on the future of training, in a way that appeared they wanted a certain answer even before the evidence had been gathered.  The consultation was also extremely poor in terms of the total number of responses, less than 200 responses were gathered from doctors.  Interestingly the majority of opinion was also ignored on key issues such as time to train:

“most individuals and organisations argued that generalists would require a longer training period or reconstruction of training to capture the breadth of experiences needed to provide competent general care”

Verdict: poor quality consultation which ignored majority of opinion on key issues.

The review's key recommendations.  Much like MMC many of the vague comments of the review appear reasonable at first glance, more 'flexibility', 'quality training' and 'generalism'.  Sadly when one takes the time to analyse the practical reality of the review's key recommendations then not only are some of the ideas extremely vague, but some of the clear points are quite frankly unsafe for patients.  The two most reckless and harmful recommendations are to reduce training time for hospital specialities and to move full GMC registration to the end of medical school.  It is of key importance that these two dangerous ideas are not justified or even explained in any sufficient detail within the review's text.  It is also key that there was significant majority of opinion against shortening training time.  The reality of shortening training time is a less skilled consultant grade, this is to all intended purposes a 'sub-consultant grade', and something that many professional bodies have argued strongly against, based on some very strong evidence I should add

The review does not justify why it is necessary to dumb down the consultant grade, and it introduces the highly bureaucratic idea of post CST (completion of specialty training) 'credentialing'.  Hence 'sub-consultants' may well not be able to do some things unsupervised as they are not proper consultants as the public would understand, but they would also not be guaranteed training to the proper consultant level, this would be left up to individual employers via the 'credentialing' pathway.  Another problem with this development of responsibility of training to employers is the lack of ability to plan the shape of the workforce in the long term.  The RCP/RCS/BMA have all spoken eloquently about the dangers of these key recommendations.  The review also fails to address the really key problems in training today such as reducing experience levelsVerdict: valid patient safety concerns from several professional bodies regarding key recommendations remain unaddressed and key recommendations inadequately justified. 

The future.  The one positive thing about the review is that it has not yet been implemented, it is currently in process.  If I briefly try to sum up the review, it would be that it's proposed aims are inconsistent with the practical reality of its recommendations.  Shape claims one thing but does another, much like MMC before it.  The reality of the review is that unless aborted it will reduce training standards, create a far less skilled and demoralised sub-consultant grade.  Not only will it have direct negative impacts on care quality and patient safety but it will likely lead to more recruitment crises, as intelligent able young doctors are not going to be keen at being trapped in a service providing sub-consultant grade for life.  Do not be conned by the eloquent claims Shape makes of 'excellent patient care', the reality is the opposite, and the highly cynical would see the changes as creating a compliant new service grade doctor to be putty in the hands of an ever expanding network of corporate NHS providers.  The Francis report highlighted huge problems with HCA training, something that has been left to employers, and Shape pushed the training of doctors further towards this disastrous position in which quality will be sacrificed for the artificial financial imperatives of employers.  I shall leave you with a quote that sums up the reality of Shape as things stand:

"The Shape of Training does not lead to 'generalism' as the public would understand it, a new 'generalist' will be trained in less time than currently it takes to train a specialist, essentially Shape's brave new 'generalist' will be a service providing middle grade, someone who is simply not trained to provide the high quality care that a properly trained consultant of today can deliver.  It would be more accurate to call Shape's new version of the consultant a 'registrar‘, essentially the review results in an Orwellian abuse of the English language in order to hide the truth from the public."

Friday, 31 October 2014

Health Education England, Fiona Patterson and Situational Judgement Tests (SJTs)

I got a bit distracted this morning when I started reading HEE's latest idea on medical selection called 'valued based recruitment' (VBR).  Here is HEE's long and shiny briefing on VBR.  I was particularly interested to read their evidence summary section in which it is stated:
"Situational Judgement Tests: high reliability and high validity"
(high validity in context of 'only if based on robust psychometric methodology')

This led me to question just where this evidence has come from.  HEE kindly replied to my query very quickly and gave me the source.  It was also interesting to note that all methods of assessing values were pretty highly susceptible to coaching, I would interpret that to mean that these methods aren't really very good at assessing people's real values as these should not be very modifiable by coaching!

Here is the full evidence section, it is important to note that Fiona Patterson and her Work Psychology Partnership Group (infamous due to their role in the disastrous MTAS selection process) are thanked by HEE for their 'support' in reviewing the evidence.  Of note Fiona Patterson and her group are keen on SJTs, have developed them for use in the UK and have made a lot of money out of SJTs.  No conflicts of interest there then.

Anyway I went on to read the evidence to see where this evidence of high reliability and validity of SJTs has come from.  Well, surprise, surprise, the evidence on SJTs is Fiona Patterson's very own review!  I then read this review to see if the evidence would back up HEE's summary, alas it did not.

Patterson's review shows a very different picture on SJTs to that painted by the HEE summary.  The reliability of SJTs is mixed, certainly some studies have shown good reliability, however many have shown extremely poor reliability (Cronbach's alphas of around 0.2).  The same is true for SJT validity, it is mixed at best, and that is arguably too optimistic, numerous studies have shown extremely poor reliability (spearman's r's of around 0.2/0.3). 

Overall the evidence in Patterson's review does not support the use of SJTs in medical selection, in my biased opinion.  It is worth noting that Patterson appears to be promoting a selection tool from which she stands to make significant amounts of money from. There is one aspect of the review I strongly agree with and that is the solid evidence demonstrating that selection centres are good selection tools:

"When designed appropriately, selection centres are valid predictors of job performance and could be used for VBR. Construct validity is enhanced by ensuring the content is directly relevant to the attributes of interest in the target job role. However, selection centres are relatively expensive to design and deliver. "

The bottom line for me is that SJTs should not be used, they are unreliable and not sufficiently valid.  However for various reasons including a distorted and cherry picking view of the evidence, HEE had come out advising that SJTs be used as part of VBR.  HEE have got it wrong, SJTs should not be used, I am sure Fiona Patterson and her group will do very nicely if SJTs are used though, what a coincidence......

Sunday, 12 October 2014

The Shape of Training review: a bizarre analysis of ‘evidence’

I have taken the time to review the ‘evidence’ that the Shape of Training review has relied upon in order to make some rather sweeping recommendations about the future of UK medical training.  One would hope that such major reforms would have been based on solid evidence, analysed in a robust and systematic fashion.  All my comments relate to the Annexes andAppendices document that is linked here

In the introductory section MMC is described “as a programme of radical change to drive up the quality of care for patients through reform and improvement in postgraduate medical education and training”.  This is plain wrong, MMC was an underhand attempt to introduce the sub-consultant grade by avoiding proper contract negotiations with the BMA.  The review’s distortion of the reality of MMC is either down to ignorance, or something rather more sinister.  The cherry picking of themes from the Tooke and Collins reviews is also unfair and not representative of these reviews’ recommendations.  At this stage it is worth repeating the Shape of Training review’s proposed purpose:

“The purpose of the Review is to ensure that doctors receive high-quality education and training that support high-quality patient care and improved outcomes.”

One would therefore imagine that their evidence review should look for evidence which can prove any changes they propose have proven benefits in terms of outcome.  Let us see if they can support their claimed purpose with evidence.  Interestingly a false dichotomy is proposed very early on:

“Theme 2 - Workforce needs: Specialists or generalists”

This is a false dichotomy and a demonstrative of a massively over simplistic attitude, one size certainly does not fit all.  Hence by proposing this false choice from the start, it is obvious the review intends to try to push us down one avenue, but why?  The lack of any decent definition of a ‘generalist’ is strange, surely this needs defining from the start?  There is also a lot of talk of ‘credentialing’ but a hard definition of what this word means is lacking, almost as if the review intends to use it as a flexible tool with which they can use however they wish at a later date.

Now to the evidence section, the start is fine, it is made clear that much evidence is anecdotal and that many previous reviews of training have been non-systematic.  Sadly things then start to go downhill when the discussion of ‘generalism’ and ‘integration’ is largely based on the work of ‘think tanks’ and some other rather potentially biased sources.  There is also a complete failure to define what ‘generalism’ and ‘integration’ mean, laying foundations of sand from the very beginning.
Sadly despite making the reader aware of the lack of decent evidence available, the review then goes about reviewing the literature and non-peer reviewed work of various think tanks using some rather vague search terms a thoroughly non-systematic methodology, one that is so open to bias it is not true.  Amazingly the review of evidence cites the GMC’s Good Medical Practice, hardly a robust and objective source of evidence.  So in conclusion the ‘evidence’ on generalism and integration has been cherry picked from a wide variety of frequently non-peer reviewed sources and sources that are open to significant political bias such as think tanks.

The first major question asked was:

“What evidence is there for the effectiveness of UK postgraduate medical education? What factors impact on the quality of postgraduate medical education in the UK?”

The search strategy was systematic, the problem with this is that this is entirely pointless if the evidence is not analysed in a systematic fashion, which it isn't, it is analysed in a fashion that resembles cherry picking.  Strangely the review then proceeds to describe some cherry picked qualitative studies relating to the impact of EWTD and MMC.  Numerous other questions are posed and not answered, often because the evidence just isn't there.  It is therefore particular strange to see this lack of evidence summed up in such a skewed and positive fashion:

“The research and discursive literature on post-MMC postgraduate medical education presents a mixed, albeit mainly positive, picture. Concerns have been raised in the major reviews, surveys and smaller research studies about the impact of system demands and working regulations on the training opportunities available to trainees. These concerns come primarily from trainers who compare their personal experience of a previous system of training with medical education as it is now. There is little objective evidence to suggest that training opportunities and experiences are diminishing.”

I find this summary astonishing, there is a clear element of propaganda here, the attempt to spin MMC positively is being repeated and there is a hint of denial when it comes to acknowledging the obvious, MMC and EWTD have hit experience levels and have impacted on training and patients.  It is contradictory that it deems on one hand that ‘there is little objective evidence that training opportunities and experiences are diminishing’ but on the other hand it deems the literature on post-MMC medical education is ‘mainly positive’ despite the lack of objective evidence to back this assertion up.

The reliance on GMC documents in the next section is interesting; there are repeated references to the GMC’s work in relation to the needs of patients/training and service needs.  It is interesting that the author of this ‘review’ has worked closely with the GMC on several projects and has not published on medical education at all from what I can see.  She is also rather obviously not a doctor, rather a large problem in terms of understanding the evidence concerning training doctors.  The second section concludes by again saying the evidence is not great:

“Whilst much has been written about the state of medical education in its current iteration, the evidence regarding whether it meets service, workforce, patient and individual doctors’ needs could be stronger. Much of the work that has been done has been opinion-based surveys.  There is a danger though, in using opinion as a proxy for hard evidence, particularly when current views may not have past counterparts against which comparisons can be made.”

The third section of the review aimed to compare the UK’s training systems to those of other countries, unsurprisingly this section concluded:

“An evidence review of this size could not realistically absorb all of the published literature on PGME….This evidence review did not find any themes in the debates or developments that are underway elsewhere that are not yet taken account of in the Review.”

Bizarrely the review’s third section asked “What do key opinion formers and stakeholders consider to be the future of medicine - pressures, opportunities and developments?”  This is a very strange question to ask and a strange group of people from whom to gather ‘evidence’ (opinion really).  If the Shape of Training review was just about improving training for the best quality patient care, then why are the views of stakeholders of any relevance in terms of evidence?  They are not of relevance; this should be about evidence, not about what stakeholders want as a result of their various vested interests.  The opinion in this section was largely gathered from the King’s Fund, the Centre for Workforce ‘Intelligence’ (my commas) and the RCGP.  There is a very brief mention for the BMA, but it is very brief indeed.  Unsurprisingly the conclusions of this section read much like a piece of think tank dogma “Regarding service demand, the shift in locus from hospital to community and the move to integrated care will impact on medical career options” and in this way stilted opinion has been transformed into evidence. 

The final question is “4: Does current UK postgraduate training give doctors the knowledge, skills and experience to meet future need for patient involvement in their care and treatment?”.  Again the search strategy seems open to bias and cherry picking.  The question appears deliberately vague and non-specific, almost as if it has been designed to generate no solid evidence based answer:

“No papers looked specifically at whether current postgraduate medical education prepares doctors for working with patients and the public in such a way as current trends dictate.” 

A strange comment, especially given that the term ‘way as current trends dictate’ has not been defined by the author.  How could the author even hope to define the ‘way current trends dictate’, this is a massively subjective judgement that is open to huge amounts of bias.  There is much discussion of generalism, but very little mention of how vague and subjective ‘generalism’ is as a term.  Again the conclusions are rather wishy washy and the lack of evidence is mentioned “There is a lack of research in this area, in terms of the impact of changes on the medical workforce, medical education and whole person approaches on patient outcomes and service quality.”

The integration section then reads much like a think tank review “calls for increased integration at all levels and in all areas of health and social care have come from influential bodies”, rather than summarising who has called for the rather nebulous concept of ‘integration’, perhaps the author would have been better to actually define ‘integration’ and see if there is any good evidence that integration as defined is of any benefit to anyone?  As the foundations have not been adequately prepared, this integration section reads like a biased piece of political propaganda, not like ‘evidence’: “An acknowledgement of integration as the direction of travel for UK health and social care is vital to the decisions made in the Review.”  Rather than assessing if there is solid evidence of a benefit of integration to medical training or patient care, the review just accepts that this is the way politicians want to go and doesn't question the dogma.

In terms of consultation the review “asked 19 open-ended questions and allowed for free-form responses” and received less than 400 responses, including both organisations and individuals.  Of note less than a hundred consultants and doctors in training responded in total, hardly an impressive return.  The consultation questions were designed and analysed in a qualitative fashion, almost as if any objective quantitative analysis of opinion had to be avoided.  Strangely the consultation summary frequently attempts to summarise opinion but consistently fails to provide any objective quantitative data to firmly back up these assertions.  Some of the questions were rather leaning in how they were asked, almost as if they were looking for a certain response.  The lack of definition of key terms such as a ‘generalist’ was mentioned but not adequately addressed, strange given how much the review goes on to use this and other such poorly defined vague terms. 

Interestingly this element of the consultation response “most individuals and organisations argued that generalists would require a longer training period or reconstruction of training to capture the breadth of experiences needed to provide competent general care” has been totally ignored by the review’s recommendations to shorten the length of training.  The opinion that training could not be shortened was also ignored “however, many respondents warned general specialty training is not necessarily the shorter training option, particularly in craft or small specialties”.  Broadly the consultation was highly flawed, not only was the response tiny, the vague qualitative responses could be interpreted in any way the review saw fit according to its preconceived ideas.  The consultation summary is much like a religious text, it is so vague and non specific that it can be interpreted exactly as one’s preconceived ideas dictate.

Thus overall the evidence review has totally failed to provide any solid evidence base upon which to justify the massive overhaul of the structure of medical training as recommended by the review.  The confused and almost haphazard way in which vague questions were posed and not answered doesn’t lead to any kind of evidence based conclusions of note.  While the review’s keenness to document the opinion of stakeholders as ‘evidence’ and its decision to include the work of potentially biased sources such as think tanks as ‘evidence’ are arguably highly flawed.  This methodologically dubious merging together of objective published evidence and politically motivated opinion is suspicious in itself; it has allowed evidence free political dogma to be accepted as evidence based fact by the review.  In conclusion the review does not give the impression that evidence has been objectively analysed to meet the long term needs of medical training and patients.  Importantly in this context the review’s recommendations appear misguided, politically motivated and evidence free.

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Open letter to the BOA president

Dear BOA President,

I am writing to express by disappointment at the BOA's recent move to force Orthopaedic surgeons into training to become BOA members by making BOA membership compulsory in order to sit the UKITE exam.

This move is a regressive and short sighted move that will alienate a whole generation of Orthopods from the BOA.  Instead of forcing trainees to join, you should be trying to work out why trainees are not joining and remedy this, rather than trying to aggressively force their hand.

Do not underestimate the harm you will do if you do not reverse this decision, I would strongly urge you to reconsider as the feeling amongst trainees on this issue is very strongly in disagreement with the BOA,

Kind regards

Ben Dean
Orthopaedic trainee

Friday, 13 June 2014

John Cook's responds but reliability issue is clearly a key study flaw

Here is John Cook's response to my questions:

"Re rater reliability and data breakdowns, we’ve released the raw individual ratings as well as the final ratings of all 11,944 papers at

Re how the endorsement levels were created, this was the result of a long, collaborative discussion between the authors - attempting to resolve the issue that different authors expressed endorsement of the scientific consensus in different ways. By allowing for different expressions of endorsement, it allowed us to have our cake and eat it too.

Re the proportion of studies providing primary evidence, we didn’t tag such papers - but it is an interesting idea worth exploring."
The reliability issue appears a big thorn in Cook's side.  In my opinion intra-rater and inter-rater reliability should have been published as part of the original study, the peer review should have picked this up and the fact that it didn't is worrying.
Cook's suggestion that the data is there for analysis is potentially misleading in my opinion.  Analysis is not possible without with days and days of re-working the data into a manageable format from which the reliability analysis could be performed.  Also I don't think the data is even there for calculating intra-rater reliability as it appears that raters did not re-rate the studies.
In my opinion the data should be provided in a format in which rater reliability can be easily calculated, this is clearly not the case as things stand.  Given that this is something fundamental to the original study and that should have been published in the first place, I find Cook's stance on the data rather unhelpful and the cynic could interpret this as Cook trying to hide the problem that is a far from reliable rating system.
At least Cook does acknowledge my point that it would be well worth exploring which studies actually provided strong primary evidence to back up their subjective opinion.  A study that reviewed the primary evidence for man-induced global warming would be far far more valuable than a study which simply surveys subjective opinion that may be based upon no meaningful evidence at all.

Thursday, 12 June 2014

Why won't John Cook reply to my simple questions?

Strangely or not so strangely, having been 'redirected' to send my letter's questions directly to the author, John Cook, I have received a response, but no attempt to respond to my queries about his study's methodology.  John Cook simply asked if I was one of many people 'that referred to Skeptical Science as "That Propaganda Site”?'.

I fail to see what my opinion on John Cook's website has to do with him answering some very simple questions about his study's methodology.  Perhaps Dr Cook should just answer the questions or is there a reason why he cannot?  Here are the questions that John Cook chooses to ignore for whatever reason:

"I read the study by Cook et al with great interest (1).  Firstly the study used levels of endorsement of global warming as outlined in their Table 2, however I can see no mention as to how these levels were created and how reliable they were in terms of both inter-rater and intra-rater reliability (Cohen’s kappa); would it be possible for the authors to clarify?  Secondly the authors ‘simplified the analysis’ by breaking down ratings into three groups, however they have not included the data breaking down the results into the original 7 categories: would it be possible to see this data?  Finally the study showed that 62.7% of all papers endorsed the consensus, but it does not mention how what proportion of these studies actually provided primary evidence to support the consensus: did the authors gather this information? "

Friday, 6 June 2014

Strange response from Environmental Research Letters on Cook et al's 97% paper

"I read the study by Cook et al with great interest (1).  Firstly the study used levels of endorsement of global warming as outlined in their Table 2, however I can see no mention as to how these levels were created and how reliable they were in terms of both inter-rater and intra-rater reliability (Cohen’s kappa); would it be possible for the authors to clarify?  Secondly the authors ‘simplified the analysis’ by breaking down ratings into three groups, however they have not included the data breaking down the results into the original 7 categories: would it be possible to see this data?  Finally the study showed that 62.7% of all papers endorsed the consensus, but it does not mention how what proportion of these studies actually provided primary evidence to support the consensus: did the authors gather this information? 

1.                  Cook J et al. Quantifying the consensus on anthropogenic global warming in the scientific literature. Environ. Res. Lett. 8 (2013) 024024. "
I wrote the above letter to ERL and received the following response:
"We regret to inform you that the Board Member has recommended that your article should not be published in the journal, for the reasons given in the enclosed report. Your manuscript has therefore been withdrawn from consideration."
The Board member states:
"The "methodological queries" is not a manuscript suited for publication at all, it simply is a set of questions to the authors of Cook et al. I would advise the author to pose these questions directly to John Cook, as is the normal procedure if someone has further questions about a publication - the corresponding author's contact address is provided with each paper on ERL."
I have sent the following response back to the Journal outlining why I feel the response from their Board member is grossly inadequate:
"I appreciate your response however the referee's comments are grossly inadequate in my opinion and I would like to request that my letter be reviewed by another reviewer who is independent to the Journal.
My questions relate to significant methodological flaws in the study by Cook and it is perfectly acceptable to submit this as a letter, so that such methodological flaws are discussed openly in a public forum.
I have written to several Journals and had several similar letters published in the past, I have never heard of this excuse for rejecting a submission.
Of note the reviewer did not even comment on the validity of my methodological questions, something I find rather strange.
I would appreciate a swift response to this letter"
This whole things appears rather fishy.  I have also emailed John Cook to see if he can answer my questions, for some reason I suspect I shall receive nothing back from him.  It is 'normal procedure' for many many scientific Journals to publish letters such as mine, which outline methodological concerns, so that this can be discussed openly and any problems with the study are noted in the public domain.  For some reason this ERL Board member doesn't want concerns about Cook's paper to be aired in public, can't imagine why?

Thursday, 5 June 2014

Telegraph gives away its nasty agenda

The above headline is a total disgrace.  The contaminated drips were supplied by a private firm, ITH Pharma, and the NHS is totally blame free in the poisoning of 15 babies.  However the Telegraph chose to cynically mislead readers and smear the NHS.  Of note this is not an isolated example, the Telegraph has been denigrating and smearing the NHS for a long time now, strangely the private sector never gets the same treatment, even when it kills babies.
I would urge everyone to complain to the PCC by using this link:
Feel free to use the text below in your complaint:
"i) The Press must take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information, including pictures."
The headline is inaccurate and misleading.  The drips were used in the NHS but they were not manufactured by the NHS.  They were manufactured by a private firm, ITH Pharma.

The lazy and inaccurate headlines misleads readers and it directly implies that the NHS is at fault for the harm to the babies, when it is not in anyway to blame.

"ii) A significant inaccuracy, misleading statement or distortion once recognised must be corrected, promptly and with due prominence, and - where appropriate - an apology published. In cases involving the Commission, prominence should be agreed with the PCC in advance."
The Telegraph should issue a front page correction and apology as a lead article.

Of note the Telegraph clearly knows the headline was a mistake as it has already change the headline on its website to "One baby dead and 14 with blood poisoning from contaminated drip".  Alas the damage has been done with this inaccurate and misleading headline in the print edition.


Wednesday, 28 May 2014

NICE throwing away millions of our money

Firstly I am no expert in weight management but I can analyse evidence.  I just wanted to outline the foundations of sand upon which the recently released NICE guidance is based.  NICE has released guidance on the management of obesity and they have summarised the evidence here, or should I say lack of evidence.  Even NICE admits the evidence is poor:

"...the studies tended to be small and with methodological limitations, providing little information on intervention setting and evaluating a fairly restricted range of interventions. In most RCTs, the methods of randomisation, allocation to treatment group and blinding of outcome assessors were inadequate or not possible to assess due to poor reporting"

Then I started to have a look through the studies that NICE has cited.  A large systematic review has demonstrated that 'little evidence supports the efficacy of commercial and self help weight loss programmes'

The only study that has shown any benefit at all to a commercial weight loss programme has major major flaws.  This study lost almost a third of its patients to follow up, so it has no idea what happened to their weights and health.  The study also assumed that 'participants who made no follow-up visits were assumed to remain at baseline value', this is generous at best, and at worst it may well be the real reason for the trial showing a 3% weight reduction in the 71% of patients who did manage to complete their follow up.  The data also showed that maximal weight gain is achieved early on, with all patients tending to increase their weight beyond the 26 week time point. 

Essentially all the trial showed was that the more motivated people tended to keep a small amount of weight of a two years, and this was probably independent of the commercial weight loss programme, it could easily have been down to selection bias.  In fact if they had managed to follow up the 29% that were lost, it is arguable that they were the least motivated and would have probably gained significant amounts of weight by the 2 year time point.

I conclude that the NICE guidance is going to result in a huge waste of public money on commercial weight loss programmes that do nothing of any benefit to anyone but their own company bank balances.   NICE does not have the evidence to back up its guidance as I have outlined above.  In the absence of good evidence, we should not be gambling with millions of tax payer's pounds that could be more effectively spent elsewhere.  After all until the government addresses our obesity-prone environment with holistic policies in non-medical areas, then society will simply continue to get fatter and fatter, as NICE pisses our money into the wind.


Friday, 25 April 2014

Letter to Niall Dickson

Niall Dickson has written in the BMJ and here is my response:
"The two year foundation programme was introduced in 2005 (as part of the Modernising Medical Careers programme) and has had broad support, reflected in Aspiring to Excellence (the report of John Tooke’s independent inquiry into Modernising Medical Careers) in 2008..."

I read this particular part of Niall Dickson's piece with great interest and am far from convinced that the Foundation programme has had broad support.  The Tooke review found many problems within Foundation training including the fact that a “sub analysis of the e-consultation response from 398 FY2 doctors revealed that 60% did not feel that the year had added value over and above further patient exposure”(1) and consequently recommended that “Foundation Year 2 should be abolished as it stands but incorporated as the first year of Core Specialty Training”.  Professor John Collins’ subsequent review of Foundation training in 2010 detailed numerous significant concerns including the “assessment of Foundation doctors is considered to be excessive, onerous and not valued’, and concluded that “the lack of an agreed purpose and of prospectively collected evaluative data made it difficult to accurately quantify how successfully the Foundation Programme is delivering against these objectives” (2).  A survey that I organised also demonstrated clear failings in the Foundation Programme including a lack of acute emergency exposure for FY1 trainees.  It appears strange that Niall Dickson equates the above with ‘broad support’.

I have requested documentation from the GMC relating to the motives behind Professor Greenaway’s review under the Freedom of Information Act:

“Has the Chair of the review (Prof Greenaway) discussed the review with any ministers/civil servants? If so may I see the documentation of these meetings and who was involved?”

Strangely the GMC are blocking this request, using a public interest argument for withholding this vital information.  This is particularly strange for an organisation that claims as one of its five core organisational values “We are honest and strive to be open and transparent”.  The emerging consensus opinion of the medical profession appears to be that the Shape of Training Review is highly flawed and the public deserves to see all the information that may shed light on the true motivations behind such a review. 

1.       Tooke J. Aspiring to excellence: findings and final recommendations of the independent inquiry into Modernising Medical Careers. Jan 2008.
2.       Collins J. Foundation for Excellence. October 2010.
     3.       Dean BJ, Duggleby PM. Foundation doctors' experience of their training: a questionnaire  study. JRSM Short Rep. 2013 Jan;4(1):5. doi: 10.1258/shorts.2012.012095. Epub 2013 Jan 14.

Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Letter to NICE on 'preventable' deaths due to acute kidney injury (AKI)

I have a simple request relating to your press release:
"Around 20 per cent of emergency cases of AKI are preventable which would save around 12,000 lives each year in England."
I would like to know how you calculated this figure of 12,000 'preventable' deaths.
The best recent research estimates that in total there are only approximately 11,859 preventable deaths per year in the whole NHS.
I would be grateful if you could justify this 12,000 number for AKI or consider withdrawing it from your website and press release, as in my opinion it is inaccurate and potentially scaremongering,

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Shape of Training: what is the GMC hiding?

I have made the following request to the GMC under the Freedom of Information act:

“Has the Chair of the review (Prof Greenaway) discussed the review with any ministers/civil servants?  If so may I see the documentation of these meeting and who was involved?”
The GMC have since replied:
"We have now considered your request under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (FOIA). We are sorry for the delay in responding to you.
I can confirm that Professor Greenaway has had discussions with ministers or civil servants about the Shape of Training Review. We hold some information regarding these discussions. However, I must confirm that we are unable to provide this information to you under the FOIA. This is because we believe that the exemption listed at section 36(2)(b)(ii) of the FOIA applies."
I have consequently appealed to the ICO, who have turned down my request, citing the GMC's public interest defence.  This is strange given that back in 2009 the ICO stated:
“There is also a significant public interest in ensuring that the public are well informed about options being considered by the government so that they can fully understand the government’s reasoning behind the need to review the Consultant role. The withheld information would allow the public to engage in a constructive debate as to whether the reasons for the review as well as the options being considered have been properly weighed alongside the potential impact on health care services.”
It is strange that the ICO appears to be contradicting its judgement from 2009 and it is strange that the GMC appears to be so against 'openness and transparency' when one of its core 5 values is to 'strive to be open and transparent'.
The Shape of Training review appears a 'danger to patients' in the eyes of the BMA, and the GMC's refusal to release information that may very well reveal the true motives behind these reforms appears to be a total contradiction to its core value of 'openness and transparency'.  In my opinion the public interest argument to release this information easily trumps the public interest argument to withhold it.
I shall be writing a separate letter to Niall Dickson giving him a final chance to serve the public interest and strive to be open, as well as appealing this decision formally.  The truth will out, I hope, otherwise there isn't much hope for any of us involved in medical training.

Monday, 3 February 2014

My letter to BMJ on Tooke's defense of the Shape of Training

I read Professor Sir John Tooke’s recent editorial with great interest (1) and it is strange that he sees the Shape of Training review as a ‘broad consensus’ of opinion. Professor Sir John’s ‘MMC inquiry’ concluded that:

“The policy objective of postgraduate medical training is unclear. There is currently no consensus on the educational principles guiding postgraduate medical training. Moreover, there are no strong mechanisms for creating such consensus.”

This quote is as true and relevant today as when it was originally published in 2008. Subsequent to the publication of the MMC Inquiry, information released as a result of Freedom of Information (FOI) requests proved that the motives behind MMC were ultimately cynical (2):
“The advantage of creating a new structure for doctors coming through the new training is that it avoids having to renegotiate the contract with existing consultants ... which would be bitterly resisted.”

The GMC has recently refused a specific FOI request to release documentation pertaining to discussions that Professor Greenaway had with ministers or civil servants about the Shape of Training review. This information may help to clarify the genuine motives behind the Shape of Training review and the GMC’s decision is currently under appeal with the Information Commissioner’s Office. The GMC’s refusal to release such important information appears inconsistent with the motives behind the Shape of Training review being entirely well intentioned.

The Shape of Training review seems another cynical politically motivated disaster in the making, one that prioritises the short term needs of politicians over the short and long term needs of both doctors and patients. Not only do the genuine motives of the review remain unclear, but the specific details regarding implementation appear almost entirely absent for all specialities other than for women’s health, child health and mental health. Forgive me for daring to question the ‘consensus’, but the Shape of Training appears to be no such thing and the medical profession is right be remain guarded until all the specific details have been laid bare on the table.

1. John T. Postgraduate medical education and training in the UK. BMJ (Clinical research ed.) 2013;347.

 2. Remedy UK. Remedy UK website 2009;17th May.