52 e-Letters

  • Cannabinoids impact on insomniacs with chronic pain: how cautious should we be?

    Title: Cannabinoids impact on insomniacs with chronic pain: how cautious we should be?
    This correspondence provides a comment on the recent review article by Humer et al. (Int. J. Mol. Sci. 2020, 21(19), 7244; https://doi.org/10.3390/ijms21197244)
    Dear Editor,
    From the results of a recent cross-sectional study on patients with insomnia and chronic pain, published in the BMJ Support Palliat Care, Sznitman and colleagues have suggested that Medicinal Cannabis (MC) could have positive effects in sleep maintenance of patients experiencing chronic pain. Since both conditions, insomnia and chronic pain play an important role in the clinical arena, either related to their impact on the quality of life and associated comorbidities, but also because both have high rates of prevalence among the world population. This is a highly relevant finding, however, we believe that it deserves further consideration.
    Although insomnia majorly affects patients seeking care in clinics managing patients complaining of persistent pain1, other sleep conditions as obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) could also prevail in similar circumstances2. In fact, comorbid insomnia with sleep apnea (COMISA) frequently occurs and may lead to a more cautious clinical approach since this comorbid condition might have different etiological, pathophysiological, diagnostic, and therapeutic implications. Either Insomnia1 or OSA increases with age, wi...

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  • Law changes facilitate telemedicine

    Interesting reading the article by Sutherland et al [1] on the use of video consultations in palliative care. As a clinician, as an user and advocate of video consultations I entirely agree that telehealth can and must be used as one of the tools of our disposal to be more efficient looking after our patients. There is no doubt workload is a trigger for new models of care.

    Nevertheless, the pandemic has not only triggered an explosion in video consultations due to the need to minimise the risk of infection but a change in law in the United Kingdom that allows its full use, as in this country the death certificate includes the statement “Last seen alive by me …. ” and up to now there was a need to see the patient face to face within the last two weeks before death. Now, it is possible to have seen the patient within the last four weeks, and video consultations are considered as an option to face-to-face consultations.

    It is argued there will be no return to the old norm, and that many changes brought by the pandemic will remain after it passes. It is hoped telemedicine expansion will remain, but in palliative medicine it will only do if the law changes remain in place.

    1. Sutherland AE, Stickland J, Wee B. Can video consultations replace face-to-face interviews? Palliative medicine and the Covid-19 pandemic: rapid review. BMJ Supportive & Palliative Care 2020;10:271-275.

  • Response to ‘The liminal space palliative care volunteers occupy and their roles within it: a qualitative study’

    I read with interest the paper titled ‘The liminal space palliative care volunteers occupy and their roles within it: a qualitative study’ by Vanderstichelen et al (1) which reported on volunteers who care for terminally ill people. I consider that the authors’ conclusion that these volunteers occupy a liminal space ‘betwixt and between’ staff and family members may be drawn from an incomplete understanding of Turner’s (2) concept of liminality.
    The term derives from limen meaning threshold and is used to denote moving across a boundary from one state to another. The model involves three stages: separation, transition (the liminal phase) and (re-) incorporation. Examples include changes in status, such as getting married or gaining majority, or in life-stage, such as birth and death.
    I argue that Vanderstichelen et al’s consideration that these volunteers occupy a liminal space ‘betwixt and between’ staff and family members since they provide care which includes aspects of that given by both these ‘conceptually rigid and mutually exclusive domains’ (p. 9) shows that the volunteer role here is ambiguous rather than liminal. While ambiguity is a core feature of liminality as described by Turner and can be applied to the volunteer role – for example, when there are unclear boundaries between volunteer and paid staff roles (3) - the presence of this feature alone does not make the role liminal.
    I acknowledge liminality has been used in some organisational li...

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  • Response to: Does palliative care education matter to medical students? The experience of attending an undergraduate course in palliative care.

    Dear Editor,

    We read with great interest the article by Centeno et al (2016) with regards to medical students’ experience of palliative care. [1] As medical students, who have recently experienced compulsory palliative care teaching during our 4th year, we wished to offer an insight into our experiences on its importance within the curriculum.

    During pre-clinical years, there was a lack of emphasis on the holistic perspective of dying patients. The early attention on basic sciences can create the notion that medicine is oriented around ‘fixing people’, with little significance placed on the experience of dying. In the UK, the General Medical Council (GMC) provides guidelines for doctors on the ‘Treatment and care towards the end of life: good practice in decision making’. [2] Hence, a palliative care course is imperative, as it prepares medical students for one of the fundamental parts of medicine: respecting and nurturing the process of dying.

    As part of our curriculum we have numerous palliative care days throughout the year. They involved visiting a hospice and speaking to patients, their families and staff, both individually, as well as in small groups. Throughout these days there are numerous activities that aid us to challenge and consider the process of dying. These involved reflective practices to allow students to consider their feelings if they were losing the most valued aspects of their life, as well as talks from family members about th...

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  • Response to "anticipatory syringe drivers: a step too far"

    Dear Editor,
    We read the editorial with interest. As they rightly observe, there are important problems prescribing anticipatory syringe drivers. However, we believe there are selected circumstances where it can be an important contribution to timely symptom management, provided all the following are true:
    1. There is a foreseeable distressing circumstance that can be unambiguously identified by all of the health professionals seeing the patient (including those out of hours and without ‘specialist’ experience)
    2.The medication choice and dose required is similarly foreseeable, unlikely to change, and can be safely initiated by all of the health professionals seeing the patient without additional expertise
    3.The initiation of the syringe driver reliably triggers a timely review by an appropriate clinician
    4.The patient and/or family is aware of the foreseeable need for a syringe driver, any concerns have been explored by an experienced practitioner and the anticipatory prescription done in accordance with their expressed wishes/preferences to achieve symptom control in their preferred place of care.
    Local service design will influence whether or not these criteria can be met. In our locality, patients have access to a community palliative care nurse 24hrs a day, changed circumstances are rapidly fed back by carers in the same community palliative care hub, and changes to regular medication doses can be identified because all community se...

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  • Extended palliative care experiences in the undergraduate medical curriculum - a solution for doctor burnout?

    I read with interest “Does a one day hospice placement for medical students do more harm than good?” [1]. As a 4th year medical student at The University of Liverpool, and having recently undertaken a 4 week palliative care placement, I would like to weigh in on the themes discussed.
    As Ward et al. pointed out, Foundation year 1 doctors (interns) regularly care for patients at the end of life, but undergraduate training is often deficient. Issues around dying and death is one of the most commonly reported sources of junior doctors stress [1][2].
    Personal distress from the care of the dying is a factor to burnout; a well-documented condition with detrimental outcomes for healthcare professionals and patients. Given the central reality of death in medicine, it seems paradoxical these issues are not better addressed in undergraduate medical training [2] [3] [4].
    The GMC’s publication ‘Tomorrow’s Doctors’, states “Graduates must know and understand the principles of treatment including...palliative care”. Despite this, a systematic review found inconsistent palliative care teaching within undergraduate curriculums. As a result, junior doctors are often unprepared and distressed when caring for palliative care patients [5] [6].
    During the 4th year of the MBChB curriculum at The University of Liverpool, students undertake a 4 week palliative care and oncology placement. This consists of three weeks in a local hospice, one week at a specialist cancer hospi...

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  • Author response to 'Blood Transfusions: time for a change in practice?'

    We read and agreed with several points in the editorial [1] that accompanied our main research paper about UK clinicians' views on blood transfusion practice [2]. We have additional responses to the editorial.

    We recognise the lack of evidence about red cell transfusion within palliative care, which is why we undertook the largest audit of transfusion practice to date [3]. We analysed 465 transfusion episodes over 3 months from 121 UK hospices. Patients were not usually investigated for the anaemia. Of those that were, a significant proportion would have benefited from B12, folate or iron supplements, although rarely used. Despite being at higher risk of transfusion-associated circulatory overload (TACO), risk-mitigation practices like weighing patients or restricting transfusion to one unit (before review), were only undertaken in 15% of patients. In terms of patient benefit only 83 (18%) had improvement maintained at 30 days; 142 (31%) <14 days, and 50 (11%) had none. 150 patients (32%) were dead at 30 days, over double the predicted number.

    While documented death rates and major morbidity from red cell transfusion are low in the general population, there is growing evidence of under recognition and under reporting. A study across 157 UK hospitals showed that 4.3% of inpatients >60 years had increasing respiratory distress post-transfusion, but only one-third diagnosed with TACO by the hospital were reported to the SHOT Haemovigilance Group [...

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  • DNACPR- a medical decision?

    This was a very interesting article. As a professional with frequent intensive care duties early discussions about patient’s wishes are best. Ideally, these should take place away from the acute setting. This is what we always hope to have for our unconscious patients being admitted to the unit.

    Unfortunately, these discussions are a bonus rather than routine practice even in end stage disease. Perhaps this partly explains the difference in expectation between the medical team and the family. This leads to management disagreements. It is not uncommon to hear a family “wanting everything doing” for their loved ones in a DNACPR conversation.

    In our training we have always been taught that DNACPR is a medical decision. It is good practice nevertheless to communicate any such major management decisions to the family. Nevertheless, there appears to be a move towards completely patient/family centred care. There are multiple occasions a DNACPR is not put in place as the family will not agree, despite a consensus among multiple consultants.

    In this climate, with the family often seen as the representative of the patient without capacity, is a DNACPR decision still a medical decision?


    Hiccups, also known as singultus, is an involuntary spastic contraction of the diaphragm and intercostal muscles that leads to inspiration of air, followed by abrupt glottic closure.1 They can be classified based on duration: bouts (up to 48 hours); persistent (48 hours to 1 month); intractable (more than 1 month) and recurrent.2 Through its constant interruptive nature hiccups can have serious consequences, including dehydration, fatigue, insomnia, lower quality of life, malnutrition, psychological stress, and weight loss.1
    The cause can be peripheral or central. Peripheral causes are from irritation to the phrenic or vagus nerve. Central causes can be divided into neurological, like cerebrovascular accident, brain trauma, intracranial tumor, non-neurological conditions (e.g., infections), multiple sclerosis, and Parkinson’s syndrome.3 In our case the exact reason for hiccups was unknown but most likely brain metastasis.
    A 47-year-old gentleman with stage IV non-small cell carcinoma of lung, with progressive lung and bone metastasis, was admitted with worsening hiccups, pain, and vomiting. He was initially started on metoclopramide 40mg IV over 24 hours; dose was increased to 60mg with no benefit and later oral baclofen added (10mg three times a day).4 The hiccups responded to baclofen but his sensorium deteriorated likely due to disease progression. He was unable to take oral medications or tolerate nasogastric tube insertion. Since baclofen is available only...

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  • Not just in palliative care

    Elizabeth Davies uses palliative care "to explore the potential use of poetry in healthcare". And indeed its use can be much wider. As she points out, "For those who enjoy reading poetry, discussing or writing it can become a means of expressing emotion, making sense of events and putting a biographical story togerther."
    That was my experience following the deaths, in a motor vehicle accident, of my eldest son Marcus and his partner Rachael. Verse written, wept over, and repeatedly revised during the year after their deaths was, I'm sure, helpful in my coming to accept, at a 'gut level' as well as intellectually, what had happened.
    And it wasn't helpful just to me. When a selection of the verse (1) was published to raise money for a trust in memory of Marcus and Rachael, it also proved useful to some who had suffered similar bereavement, perhaps because the writer had experienced the same hell as them:
    "but our souls too
    are pierced by a sword." (2)
    (1) 'As Well as Joy - Elegies for Marcus and Rachael'; Rachael Gloag and Marcus Fitchett Memorial Medical Education Trust, Dunedin, 1998
    (2) Ib.; p. 40. 'The Feast of the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple'.