Friday, 15 April 2016

Honoring the Mothers of Gynecology

Honouring the Mothers of Gynecology

This blog was written after hearing Shankar Vendantam’s excellent podcast from the NPR Hidden Brain series on the mothers of gynecology.

The history of healthcare, the history of the noble profession, doctors, nurses, scientists and others has an underbelly of unethicality and double standards. This is often justified by the rationale that the practices were compatible with the ‘standards of the time’. That is one of the fundamental issues, the wrong question is whether it was compatible with the standards of the time, a possibly right question would be whether it was compatible with some of the eternal principles of medical practice. We will find again and again that actions of many of our predecessors in modern healthcare were not compatible with eternal ethical principles of healthcare.

An infamous example of an individual was the American physician J Marion Sims, who acquired black women slaves for the purpose of experimental surgery to resolve vesico-vaginal fistula. He operated on them without anaesthesia when anaesthesia was available and he operated on white women with the same condition only when he had completed his experimental surgery on black slave women after his technique was perfected on these black women. Who were these black women? It seems there were 14 of them; we do not even know their names except three of them. Anarcha, Betsy and Lucy.

In the NPR podcast historian Vanessa Gamble alludes to some potential motives. The women with vesico-vaginal (abnormal connections between urinary bladder and vagina) and recto-vaginal (abnormal connections between rectum and vagina) fistulas that happened after traumatic childbirth, meant that these enslaved women could not work for their ‘masters’ and could not reproduce creating more enslaved people to benefit their ‘owners’. So, it seems that it might not have simply been the desire to progress the frontiers of surgical science that was the primary motivator for Sims to have acted unethically. The view that he might have acted unethically is not just from retrospection, he was challenged about it even within his time.

Vanessa Gamble and Bettina Judd (a poet) talk in the NPR podcast about how these women whose life, living and bodies were used without consent could be recognised; there is some talk on statues along with the one that exists for Sims. Recognising and honouring these women is not tokenism, it is a fundamental for progress of humanity. Statues will act as symbols but they will have the constraints of geography and history whereas Sims will continue to have universality.

The mothers of gynecology should have universality (while Sims would become a lesser part of history). With that in mind I propose the following:

1)      Anarcha should be referred to as the mother of gynecology.

2)      The vaginal speculum currently known as Sims and its variants should from now be known as the Betsy speculum

3)      The surgical procedure to repair vesico-vaginal fistula should be called the Lucy’s repair.

While these three are important, it is also important to stop referring to Sims as the father of gynecology.

These suggestions stem from the principle where an immoral or unethical person is disassociated from any glory that is derived from the outcome of such person’s activity. The new world demands a new kind of approach, the sins, crimes and injustices of the past will remain – the benefits from those should not. The ignominy suffered by these women must be honoured by making them the main story; Sims of course needs a place on the page which he will have as an incidental footnote in the history of gynecology. Success in Healthcare demands these actions, we cannot allow healthcare to fail by not giving the mothers of gynecology their rightful place.

Organisations and persons working for equality and justice should lobby the gynaecological profession to adopt these changes so that they become the norm.


PS: I started writing a blog called ‘What are the nasties in healthcare we may regret in the future?’ and intended to use the mothers of gynecology as an example. Once I started writing it I realised that it will be yet another injustice if the mothers of gynecology did not have their own place in these blog pages.


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Saturday, 9 April 2016

A View of the NHS from the private sector health care

A View of the NHS from the private sector health care - A Personal Perspective:
Joe Karthikappallil

Whenever there are more than one solution to solve one problem  its safe to assume that  none works satisfactorily .

Healthcare for all free at the point of delivery is a commendable dogma which has made the UK a privileged population.  The staff including doctors who are appointed to the NHS enjoy reliable employment with a decent pension provision and great  perks with no pressure, obligation, or motivation to a  target orientated work ethic or to eliminate the waiting list of patients - apart from their goodwill.  

My experiences in the NHS are limited to ophthalmology and it would be reasonable to limit my comments to this speciality. Others may be able to comment on their speciality.  Lengthy waiting lists in Ophthalmology in the 90s and 00   were the result of a healthcare monopoly. Lack of competition and assured employment caused the incumbent surgeons to become inefficient. The result, lack of essential healthcare for the needy. 

Monopoly kills competition and stifles viable alternatives. Lack of competition causes creeping inefficiencies. Choice is important to maintain efficiency and keep costs down. Capitalistic market forces are not ideal but it delivers results. Private healthcare had to be roped in to reduce the massive waiting times in a fully funded NHS. How this could be achieved was a lesson that the NHS needed to learn.

The private sector quickly realised that efficient use of surgeons who are an expensive and scarce resource is key – something the NHS has still not taken any notice of. Five days a week and sometimes more - surgeons were utilised to perform surgical operations.

All other activity involved in the patient pathway could be serviced by staff who were trained e.g. preoperative assessment, biometry preparing the patient for operation, consenting and all postoperative care. This was a concept which the NHS was resistant to. Doctors were involved in organising all the above activity.

It was customary for all cataract surgeries to be performed under GA in the NHS whereas surgeons elsewhere were performing the same surgeries under topical anaesthesia. Compared to an average NHS list of 4 to 5 patient who required inpatient care due to GA, the private sector could treat 25 cataracts without anaesthesia cover as outpatient procedure. These efficiencies were lacking in the NHS due to the lack of competition.

A huge outcry was raised by the incumbent surgeons pointing out safety and cherry picking of patients. But evidence based medicine and audit of the outcomes paid put to these baseless allegations.  Kicking and screaming, efficiency in the NHS was improved.

Today the constant threat of funding following the patient compels the NHS to find efficiencies and failing surgeons and departments are shut or amalgamated.

The NHS is a monolith as far as procurement is concerned. Huge efficiency can be achieved if standardisation of use of capex products. In Ophthalmology departments the number of high tech equipments purchased and serviced runs in to billions of pounds.

The private sector buys standard equipments in large orders and thus drive prices down form suppliers. For instance the lenses and surgical instruments used in cataract surgeries, eye drops used can be standardised and prices can be a fraction of the current price if all orders are generated centrally. Similarly servicing charges for equipments are enormous and could be mitigated by  a dedicated NHS team of service engineers  - the private sectors do this currently.

These are just a few ways efficiencies of scale can be achieved. To the trained eye the NHS seems to be riddled with inefficiencies and in this age of technology, where there is a will, a way can easily be found. This is a relentless everyday process of discovering and upgrading efficiency.

In various other fields of British life, partnership between the private sector and the public sector is acceptable. The famous nuclear deterrent of the cold war was built on private public partnership.
There are build and operate private and public enterprise in constructing  hospitals  but not  healthcare delivery systems.

Not long ago NICE came along with recommendations regarding laser vision correction that made a mockery of available evidence base. All it achieved was a loss of credibility and a diminished its status as an institute of excellence. To lay out clear guidelines to the effect that although there is clear evidence to suggest that laser vision correction for myopia and hyperopia which is safe and effective there is no case for this to be available on the NHS would have been an elegant  stance to take. 

Such procedures  are performed and the public who have done their research are availing of such services but the animosity that this generates between the  surgeon community each trying to  undermine the other is unbecoming of an  erudite community of health professionals.

Aneurin Bevan in 1946 conceived and dedicated to the nation the NHS on the premise that services were provided free at the point of use. Advances in technology, extension of life expectancy, changes in the nation’s demographics and the longest recession in living memory are some of the forces testing the resolve of the British Isles - it is a challenge if such a health service or any health service conceived on the premise of free delivery at the point of care can endure any longer.

The people of the nation, if not the politicians are determined, that the NHS, the envy of the rest of the world shall endure. Take care of the pennies the pound will take care of itself. You shall find efficiency or efficiency shall be thrust upon you. A strong resolve alone is not sufficient to ensure that this generation and many generations to come shall continue to benefit from the high ideals of our fore-fathers.

Author of this post:
Joe Karthikappallil, FRCS Ophthal, is a consultant ophthalmologist in the private sector working in the northwest of England. The views expressed are his personal views and does not represent the views of any organisation, individual, associates, businesses, etc. 

I thank Joe for his contribution to this blogsite. 


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My mini e-book 'Standardised Management Conversation' is available - click 
till 31 December 2016 all my earnings from the sale of this book will be donated to charity