Skip to main content

A carer proposes covertly medicating a patient - what should I do?

You are called by a worker at a care home. She is concerned about a dementia patient who, despite all non-drug measures being tried, is causing distress to other residents. She asks you to prescribe a sedative to ‘slip into her food’. How should you proceed?

Giving medication covertly to sedate an agitated patient raises serious legal and ethical issues. Treatment without consent is only permissible where there is a legal basis for this. In the scenario described here, giving a sedative to the patient without her knowledge and consent would be a breach of her human rights. There is also a risk that the patient could suffer side effects from the medication she was given. For example, administration of a benzodiazepine or an antipsychotic drug could lead to a fall or a fracture that resulted in serious harm to the patient. Covert administration of medication is also a breach of trust on the part of the doctor who prescribed the medication. Hence, it may lead to a formal complaint against the doctor, which would be difficult to defend. Hence, covert administration of sedative medication is a practice that doctors should not collude in, and you should refuse to prescribe. You should also discuss the staff member’s request with the nursing home manager. The care home needs to ensure that it is adequately staffed and that its staff are trained in the appropriate management of people with dementia. If the patient is new to the care home, then her unfamiliar surroundings may be the cause of her agitation. In this case, her behaviour is likely to improve over time as she becomes more familiar with her new home and the staff who care for her. If the increased agitation and confusion are of recent onset, then an organic cause such as an infection or drug side-effect needs to be excluded. If the problem is ongoing and does not settle, advice and support should be obtained from the local nursing home support service and community mental health team; for example, on holding a  ‘best interests meeting’.

A version of this article was published in the medical magazine Pulse.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Improving how secondary care and general practice in England work together: the NHS Standard Contract

Due to the increasing pressures on general practices within the National Health Service in England, the interface between primary and secondary care, and the division of labour between these, has become an important issue. This has long been an area prone to difficulties and conflict, the consequences of which can directly impact the quality and safety of patient care, particularly for patients with chronic conditions who regularly transition between these two sectors. In an article published in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, Amy Price and I explore the measures recently implemented in the NHS Standard Contract which aim to target common issues at the primary–secondary care interface, with an aim to reducing inappropriate general practitioner workload in England. We discuss the context behind the implementation of the NHS Standard Contract as well as current concerns and areas for further consideration.

The current crisis in primary care means the NHS Standard Contract…

Dr Demis Hassabis, Co-Founder and CEO of DeepMind, Speaks about AI in Healthcare

On 28 September 2017, I attended the Annual Institute of Global Health Innovation Lecture: Artificial General Intelligence and Healthcare, delivered by Dr Demis Hassabis, co-founder and CEO of Google DeepMind. Artificial intelligence is the science of making machines smart argued Dr Hassabis, so how can we make it improve the healthcare sector? Dr Hassabis then went on to describe the work that DeepMind was carrying out in healthcare in areas such as organising information, deep learning to support the reporting of medical images (such as scans and pathology slides), and biomedical science. Dr Hassabis also discussed the challenges of applying techniques such as reinforcement learning in healthcare. He concluded that artificial intelligence has great scope for improving healthcare; for example, by prioritising the tasks that clinicians had to carry out and by providing decision support aids for both patients and doctors. Dr Hassabis also discussed some of the ethical issues in using …

Patients are more satisfied with general practices managed by GP partners than those managed by companies

General practices in England are independent businesses that are contracted to provide primary care for specified populations. Most are owned by general practitioners, but many types of organisation are now eligible to deliver these services. In a study published in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, we examined the association between patient experience and the contract type of general practices in England, distinguishing limited companies from other practices.

We analysed data from the English General Practice Patient Survey 2013–2014 (July to September 2013 and January to March 2014). Patients were eligible for inclusion in the survey if they had a valid National Health Service number, had been registered with a general practice for six months or more, and were aged 18 years or over. All general practices in England with eligible patients were included in the survey (n = 8017).

Patients registered to general practices owned by limited companies reported worse experience…