NICE have recently issued draft guidelines relating to multimorbidity, the not entirely appealing way in which doctors refer to the issue of patients having more than one health condition. There is a consultation period which still has a few days to run – the deadline is 12 May at 5pm. Comments from individuals as well as organisations are welcome, and I finally got round to sending in a few thoughts of my own (as a patient who has ME and also other conditions). I think it is good that NICE have recognised the need to deal with this subject and they have focussed on the important issues of treatment interactions and coordination of care, but there are other issues they haven’t addressed. Much of what I have to say relates to matters I’ve raised in previous blogs, not least the tendency of doctors to assume that complex sets of symptoms are likely to be somatised/psychogenic. Here’s the feedback I submitted:
I don’t feel that the interaction of multiple health conditions has been given due weight in these guidelines. Obviously treatment interactions are important and it is good to see this issue thoroughly addressed in the guidelines. As a patient with multimorbidities, however, I find that little consideration is given to the interactions of the health conditions themselves and the associated effect on symptoms. I have spoken to other patients with multimorbidities and they have had the same experience. If the patient raises the subject of a symptom which is not normally associated with condition A, there is a tendency for the specialist consultant just to say ‘oh, that’s probably due to condition B’ and show no further interest. Meanwhile GPs are so overloaded that they tend to refer any complex issues back to the consultants, so they don’t get addressed. The problem of interpreting multiple symptoms also leads to delays in diagnosis and to misdiagnosis.
Another important and associated issue which is not addressed in these guidelines is the inclination of many doctors to leap to the conclusion that patients who have multiple symptoms (which do not fit the clinical picture of a specific pathology) must therefore have a somatised condition. I refer you to this NHS web page as an example of this unfortunate perspective which I fear is prevalent. As you will see, the advice given on this official NHS site is to keep such patients away from other doctors, to persuade them to dismiss any new symptoms as also somatic, and to develop a ‘therapeutic alliance’ with a close relative to enforce the doctor’s perspective. This imposition of the (often erroneous) doctor’s perspective upon the patient (often enlisting close relatives to overrule the patient) seems to be the antithesis of NICE’s declared intention (as described on Prof Haslam’s blog) of putting patients ‘in the driving seat’. It leads to misdiagnosis and/or late diagnosis of multi morbidities and also of rare diseases as described in the recent Rare Disease UK report. I believe that this issue needs to be urgently addressed, not least because it also leads to the misallocation of valuable mental health resources.