The Psychiatry SHO*

24 hours of admin in mental health services


I recently had a Twitter conversation with Geraldine Strathdee, our National Clinical Director for Mental Health, about the administrative burden we face while practicing in our specialty. She asked me to write a blog detailing just how much paperwork (and electronic paperwork) I have to do over a set period, to shine a light on the issue. So this might not be my most scintillating blog, but I’m hoping that it’ll create some useful discussion nonetheless.

I’m writing about a typical day in my current job, but none of the content is specific to my team or Trust. I’ve done six other jobs in mental health and they’ve all carried roughly the same weight and type of admin.

The day shift

I’ve been away for a week (typical lazy junior doctor), so I get in early to check through my emails. I answer a few of the more pressing ones, which if at all vaguely important need to be copied and pasted into the electronic notes. I make a few phone calls to patients who left messages last week, typing the entirety of the conversations up too.

Then I move on to seeing some patients. Two full assessments in the morning. Not only do both need extensive clinic letters but an array of auxiliary electronic forms need to be filled out too. Each new patient needs a diagnosis under the ‘Outcomes’ tab of their electronic notes and a full risk assessment under the ‘Risk’ tab (the form has around 100 optional tick-boxes as well as free text space). Also, HONOS and clustering scores need to be calculated (two multiple choice forms which take 2-10 minutes each), so we can demonstrate that our patients are ill enough to need our help. These are all individually fairly easy forms to fill out, but when you have to do 5 for every patient, it suffocates you. I perpetually wonder why I was never weighed down by all this when I worked in general medicine (it’s because Acute Trusts pay coders to extract the information from the notes after discharge and don’t have such an unhealthy obsession with ‘risk’).

I make some more phone calls at lunch time, followed by seeing two more patients in the afternoon. It’s the same admin story as the morning’s patients. I also remember that every meeting we have with a patient needs to be confirmed on the electronic notes diary, so it gets logged as work that the team has done. This involves clicking on the appointment under the relevant tab in their notes, then laboriously copying every bit of information about the appointment (who is going to be there, what time and date it’ll be, where it’ll be, what it’s for) from the left hand side of the page into identical boxes on the right hand side of the page, to confirm it all actually happened. For every appointment. If we don’t do it, the computer doesn’t recognise that we did any work.

I stay late to finish (some of) my clinic letters and write covering letters to three other services (two within my own Trust) who I’m referring the patients to. I email all the letters to the admin team, who are wonderful. They’ll print off the letters and send them in the post (yes, including to other services in our own Trust), where the recipients will most of the time scan them right back onto their own computers. Welcome to our ‘paperless’ NHS. It’s been no different in any Trust I’ve worked in. Occasionally I find replies from these services in my pigeonhole, sent by post as well, already scanned on to our own computers by the wonderful admin ladies, who frankly must have better things to do.

God forbid you ever want anything from a GP. They have to fax it across to you, for it to be scanned and the hard copy shredded. Often they even ask for a faxed request to prove that you’re really who you say you are. It’s 2015. Email was invented before plenty of doctors were even born.

The night shift

I finally manage to get home, but I’m on call, and after grabbing some dinner I’m called into A+E to help see some new patients. Not a process which is easy on your typing fingers. Every time we see a patient in A+E, we have to:

Plus whatever extra paperwork you need to do for that individual patient, for example, a referral to social services, psychological services, or an employment support service. I have to admit, it’s so much paperwork that it’s sometimes very difficult to enjoy seeing patients. Which is a HUGE warning sign. How much paperwork do orthopaedic surgeons do when they see a patient in A+E? (not just the depth of detail on the forms, but the amount of forms?).

After quietly tiptoeing out of A+E, I make it home for a nap. But in the early hours of the next day, I’m called out again to assess someone who has been brought in on a Section 136 by the police. I see them, and they need to come into hospital. And as is absolutely usual, there are no beds.

The phone calls begin- to the consultant, to wards who might be able to spare a bed, and inevitably to the bed manager and anyone else who needs to give the green light to an out-of-area bed. Every phone call is accompanied by a note on the electronic system, in addition to the assessment entry (and risk entry, etc. etc.) and the handwritten section paperwork. Thankfully an SHO is around to do the drug chart and the blood test forms. I email the patient’s usual care team to tell them what’s happened. Eventually a bed is found, and the transfer paperwork needs to be readied – so you’ve guessed it, everything needs to be printed off, and either faxed to the accepting hospital or put in an envelope with the patient.

And with that done I go home, get some ice on my typing fingers, and catch a few hours of sleep before the emails start rolling in again.