Rules-of-thumb ~ are they the answer to our decision making dilemmas at the end of life for people with dementia? Nathan Davies discusses Rules of Thumb for End of Life Care for People with Dementia. (954 words)

Back in 2011 when I started my PhD and was working on a European study which was examining palliative care services for people with dementia, there was a distinct lack of guidance about how end of life care should be delivered. The only real ‘saving grace’ I guess was the Liverpool Care Pathway. This offered some guidance about what should happen towards the end of life. It was meant to incorporate and describe best practice from hospice care, the ‘gold standard’ of end of life care, and allow it to be translated to other settings such as the acute hospital ward. Although, I say saving grace… really, it wasn’t best suited to people with dementia and it only focused on the last few days of life.

The Liverpool Care Pathway received some shocking criticism, spearheaded mainly by the Daily Mail and ultimately this led to the removal of the pathway by the UK government in 2013. What we saw in the middle of our projects were practitioners losing more and more confidence in providing end of life care generally, let alone for people with dementia.
This led us to think, what can we do to help with practitioners confidence but not develop yet another pathway or guideline? Maybe what we need is something that is short, easy to remember, prompts us to think and leads us to an action. Cue light bulb moment, and we have the idea of developing rules-of-thumb (heuristics). Rules-of-thumb are simple, easy to remember schematic patterns which help with decision making. We were fortunate to gain funding for this research from the Alzheimer’s Society and Marie Curie. Our research team included dementia and end of life care experts, including Prof Steve Iliffe, Dr Kethakie Lamahewa, Prof Jill Manthorpe, Dr Rammya Mathew, and Dr Liz Sampson. Continue reading

From our annual joint conference: End of Life Care

Dr Joan RapaportThe Annual Joint Conference of the Social Care Workforce Research Unit and Making Research Count at King’s College London and Age UK London, with support from the British Society of Gerontology was held on 11 February 2016 at King’s College London. Joan Rapaport reports. (1,633 words)

By way of introduction, Professor Jill Manthorpe, Director, Social Care Workforce Research Unit, explained that the focus of the conference was on good practice in the day-to-day delivery of palliative and end of life care. The Unit’s Longitudinal Care Work Study had highlighted the importance of collaborative working between health and social care agencies and ensuring staff were prepared and supported when working with people in the last stages of life. In spite of all the bad news about social care being ‘in crisis’ and of poor quality, research has shown that four out of five people describe positive experiences: ‘We can work on the one in five’. Continue reading

Another transition in the NHS – another difficulty in recruiting people to take part in research?

Nathan Davies

by Nathan Davies

Nathan Davies is a PhD student based within the Research Department of Primary Care and Population Health at University College London (UCL). He is working on a palliative care study called IMPACT and here reflects on the difficulties of recruiting general practitioners for the project in light of the changes at the National Health Service (NHS) in England.

IMPACT is a European study working across five different countries: England, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Norway. The aim is to improve the organisation of palliative care for people with dementia and/or cancer. In England the project is led by Professor Steve Iliffe from UCL working in collaboration with Professor Sam Ahmedzhai at the University of Sheffield, and Professor Jill Manthorpe from the Social Care Workforce Research Unit at King’s College London. As a researcher on this project I have been part-responsible for the recruitment of various organisations and services to participate in England at a time of massive upheaval and change. What we found was surprising to some extent; however, with hindsight it was not.

I work in a Primary Care research department with strong links to doctors and medical students interested in becoming general practitioners (GPs), yet despite this, our biggest headache in recruitment was in relation to general practice. Why is this? We are not one hundred percent sure and I really don’t think we have the answers about how to improve this; however, I can share some of the difficulties that we encountered. There are several possible reasons, which tend to demonstrate the huge pressures that our GPs are facing at the moment:


GPs have so little time to see their patients, with us all wanting a piece of our GP’s valuable time and often wanting it now. Our GP services are so stretched that we find that fewer and fewer GPs seem to be able to afford the time to do additional work such as research and some struggle to make a home visit as often as would have been expected a few years back. Initiatives requiring GP surgeries to be open later in the evening and seven days a week may increase this sense of busyness. With the new role that some GPs are taking on within Clinical Commissioning Groups they are also having more of their time taken up with this. So when a researcher arrives in a health centre with a new research project, which also demands a piece of their time, then it is not such a surprise they are not quite so able to donate some of their time to work with researchers, despite being enthusiastic about research.


Our Primary Care system in the UK rests on a basis of incentives, for example, the Quality and Outcomes Framework (QOF) points system. However, in our project we could not offer very large numbers of points or substantial financial inducements such as these. What we could offer was €1000 per site with additional service support costs, together with hopefully a valuable learning experience which could potentially help improve the organisation and patient service, but this was still not enough. Reflecting upon our attempts I think the closest we came to recruiting GPs was when we were discussing introducing a Locally Enhanced Service, which is again an incentive based system.

Taboo and stigmatization

Within the general public death is still very much a taboo and dementia is still stigmatized. It appeared that many of the GPs that we encountered would rather leave end of life care and palliative care to the specialists. Further to that, many would also rather pass over dementia care to the specialists, such as an old age psychiatrist.

Uncertainty pre–NHS transition

The turmoil over the proposed reorganisation of the NHS before April 2013 caused us huge difficulties. GPs were generally uncertain about what their position would be and therefore questioned whether they could pledge support to a research project which would be an additional commitment.

Confusion post–NHS transition

After April 2013 we still had big problems, indeed probably more problems than before April 2013. Post April 2013 not only were we unable to recruit as many GPs as we needed, we were not even able to arrange meetings or appointments with them to discuss the study. The changes introduced were not a smooth transition. People were left unclear about their roles, responsibilities and how they would go about completing their tasks, balancing a clinical role, commissioning role and for some a research role. Some GPs appeared to be placed in commissioning roles without real choice, and having limited knowledge of that field.

I hope that over the coming months the organisational environment will stabilise and GPs become less anxious, about the new organisations, amended systems, dementia and palliative care. We remain hugely grateful to those GPs and other organisations such as care homes and hospices who have joined this study in these challenging times.

Nathan Davies is a PhD student based within the Research Department of Primary Care and Population Health at University College London.

@ImpactProject1 | @NathanDavies50 | IMPACT website

Evidence Based Interventions in Dementia: What have we found?

Caroline Norrie reports on the presentation of findings yesterday from the major research programme known as EVIDEM, Evidence Based Interventions in Dementia.

Yesterday was a great day for those of us at the Social Care Workforce Research Unit, King’s College London who worked, together with colleagues from other universities, on the EVIDEM programme on changing practice in dementia care in the community. We joined an invited audience gathered at Friends House, Euston Road, London, to hear a summary of the EVIDEM programme research findings.

Presentations of the findings of this five year research programme were delivered to representatives from the Department of Health, the charity sector, health and social care professions, service user groups and research colleagues. This was the culmination of a huge amount of work and a fantastic opportunity to celebrate the project outputs.

EVIDEM was funded from a National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) grant of £2 million which ran from 2008-2012 with the aim of developing and testing interventions for people with dementia living in the community, including care homes.

Research teams were involved from King’s College London, UCL, LSE, St George’s & Kingston, University of London, University of Hertfordshire and Central and North West London NHS Foundation Trust.

The opening address was given by Professor Alistair Burns, the National Clinical Director for Dementia at NHS England, who outlined key policy goals in dementia such as: timely diagnosis and support for people with dementia; reduction in hospital admissions of people with dementia; improving services in care homes; reduction in the prescribing of anti-psychotic drugs; and care and support for carers. Professor Burns noted, “We are on the threshold of getting the data to change practice in dementia care.” 

Chairs Peter Ashley and Dr. James Warner, then introduced the five speakers and Professor Steve Iliffe from UCL gave an overview of the EVIDEM Programme. This consisted of: EVIDEM ED (education), EVIDEM E (exercise) EVIDEM C (continence) and EVIDEM MCA (Mental Capacity Act), EVIDEM EoL (end of life).

Professor Steve Iliffe opened the presentations with a discussion of EVIDEM ED. The aim of this intervention study was to test a customized educational intervention developed for general practice, promoting earlier diagnosis with management guidelines. Five NHS providers and two overseas organisations have now rolled out this training.This randomized trial, however, showed that the intervention did not appear to change the practice of GPs, which led to discussion of what other levers could be used to encourage GPs to follow best practice guidelines for dementia care.

Dr. James Warner from Central and North West London NHS Foundation Trust introduced EVIDEM E. He discussed results from this randomized trial of exercise as therapy for behavioral and psychological symptoms of dementia (BPSD). Dr Warner described how this was a simple intervention – a person with BPSD and a their carer went on a walk five times a week for 12 weeks. This study found that regular simple exercise does not improve symptoms of BPSD, but it does decrease caregiver burden.

Professor Vari Drennan from Kingston and St. George’s, University of London, presented EVIDEM C. Work on dementia and incontinence is of huge significance because this is a key factor in why people with dementia move into care homes. This group of studies included 4 elements: i) scoping the evidence on prevalence, effective interventions, local clinical guidance on provision of NHS funded incontinent products; and a nested study of the THIN database reporting incidents rates for the first time, for urinary and faecal incontinence in community dwelling people with dementia; ii) a longitudinal study exploring the experiences and strategies of people with dementia, their family carers and health and social care professionals; iii) a feasibility study of the investigation of the effectiveness and acceptability of different designs of continence pads; and, iv) the design of a continence assessment tool tailored to the needs of people with dementia. Findings from Professor Drennan’s research team showed that the incidence of incontinence in community dwelling people with dementia is at least double that in a matched population. The use of indwelling urinary catheters, a management strategy discouraged by international and national clinical guidelines was in fact found to be double the rate in people with dementia compared to a matched population. The presence of faecal incontinence was found to significantly increase expenditure by almost two-thirds from both a health and social care perspective. “This study suggests that there are strategies and responses that primary care professionals and others can employ to encourage greater openness, thereby lessening the taboo of incontinence within the stigma of dementia.” added Prof Drennan.

Professor Jill Manthorpe, Director of the Social Care Workforce Research Unit, King’s College London outlined EVIDEM MCA. This project involved developing practice in and building evidence on the use of the Mental Capacity Act 2005 (MCA). Professor Manthorpe’s research showed that dementia care services and practitioners have traditionally not conceptualised their practice as being framed by legal rules. The MCA has proved a major challenge to this and dementia care. Key points from this presentation were that practitioners in dementia care need to be legally literate and aware of the new clauses making neglect and abuse criminal offences. There are messages also for thinking about how future changes to the legal framework of social care contained within the Care and Support Bill may be sustained. (Jill Manthorpe and Kritika Samsi’s presentation from the event.)

Professor Claire Goodman, from University of Hertfordshire presented on EVIDEM-EoL: Quality of Care at the End of Life. The project team has found the trajectories of end of life in people with dementia (PWD) are often unclear to care home staff, family and healthcare practitioners. They used Appreciative Inquiry (AI) as a way to enhance professional relationships around the care home. It fostered rapid and sustained engagement between care home staff and GPs, did not increase resource use, reduced use of emergency services and appeared to improve the management of unexpected events and unplanned hospital admissions.

Finally, the afternoon was brought to a close by Professor Steve Iliffe who gave a short presentation on how EVIDEM has worked with the government funded Dementia and Neurodegenerative Diseases Research Network (DeNDRoN) to help build systems to give people with dementia who are interested  in research more choice and opportunity to get involved.

Overall, from the point of view of someone who worked as a researcher on one of the studies, this was a fantastic day, as it was highly satisfying to view the whole, complex programme of studies coming together and the wide range of evidence and research outputs produced.

Caroline Norrie is Research Fellow at the Social Care Workforce Research Unit, King’s College London. She is working on a NIHR School for Social Care Research funded project comparing the costs and benefits of different models of adult safeguarding.