Sight saved using artificial intelligence?

Sight loss around the world: Image: Deep Mind, Moorfields

Sight loss is a major global health problem. Many eye diseases can be treated effectively if they detected early, But the current imaging system needs highly trained experts. DeepMind, working with Moorfields Eye Hospital has developed a system using Artificial Intelligence to ‘read’ and interpret the results of optical coherence tomography (OCT) scans.

OCT produces a detailed map of the back of the eye, in 3D images. There’s some info about OCT here and a  normal OCT image below

Sight: A normal retina (back of the eye) in an OCT scan.Image: American Academy of Ophthalmology
A normal retina (back of the eye) in an OCT scan. Image: American Academy of Ophthalmology

Healthcare professionals at Moorfields have to go through over 1000 OCT scans a day at Moorfields. Which obviously takes lots of skilled time! The inevitable delays can cause sight loss.

This week, an Artificial Intelligence / OCT system was reported to be as good as, or even slightly better than, the best experts. There’s a less technical write-up of the study here.The application of Artificial Intelligence to Optical Coherence Tomography is surely very welcome if it can prioritise those who need specialist clinical input – and so speed up vision-saving interventions.  Happily, the initial results suggest this is the case.

Elsewhere in this week’s BMJ there is an article on ‘Patients roles and rights in research’ – making it clear that patient involvement is best practice. The BMJ say that they have extended their current reporting requirements on how patients and the public were involved in research they report.
I’d like to know how the Deep Mind / Moorfields team are going to involve patients in the work they still need to do for regulatory approval? As the BMJ Editorial suggests, it’s not just about token involvement for ‘virtue signalling’

Deep Mind are keen to sort out the ‘black box’ problem for clinicians understanding a new technology. What about the patients?

The AI/OCT package is intended to help those with, for example, macular degeneration and diabetic retinopathy.
How are they addressing the needs of those with multiple visual morbidity? These more informed patients may well have different communication as well as clinical needs.
Deep Mind is clearly leading on some truly innovative work.

Can they be as exciting in their patient / community involvement?

I’ve submitted a version of this as a BMJ Rapid Response. I’ve got some ideas about the answers – and the Responses to the Editorial make some more great points.


Save lives with CPR

 In other countries, survival rates are more than DOUBLE that: at 20-25%

We could – and surely should – improve the UK situation!

We can do that without more money for the NHS (although I’m sure that would always be welcome!)
And we don’t need nurses, or doctors to get involved.

If bystanders – ordinary people like you and me – get on and do CPR they can DOUBLE the chances of survival.

Some studies have found that early bystander CPR can even increase survival rates FOUR fold.

Imagine that! Imagine saving someone’s life!
And now, please don’t just imagine it.
Prepare to do it.
Check out the You-tube videos below, to get an idea of the simple things you’ll need to do

Then, try Lifesaver. This is a live-action movie that you play like a game. It shows you how to save someone’s life in four action-packed scenarios – including a brand new teen-focused scenario. It throws you into the heart of the action as you make crucial decisions and learn essential life-saving skills.

Lifesaver feels very like the real thing. It’s a bit scary. But it’s a lot less scary than not knowing what to do, and not being able to help, if you see someone collapse.
Since the most common place for an out-of-hospital cardiac arrest is the home, it is most likely that it’s a member of your own family or a friend that you’ll be trying to save.

In really short summary, CPR is about Call Push Rescue.

CALL 999 – and the operator will help you.
If you’re in a public place, also CALL for a defibrillator.
Some hearts are what is described as ‘shockable’. In these cases, then for every MINUTE defibrillation is delayed, the chances of survival fall by around 10%.
So don’t wait for the Ambulance to get there. 
If you’re in a station or a shopping centre, get someone to ask for their defibrillator whilst you’re doing CPR.
Here’s what to look for in the UK:
Defibrillation is key alongside CPR. This is what defibrillators look like in the community in the UK. Image: Mirror newspaper
Defibrillation is key alongside CPR. This is what defibrillators look like in the community in the UK. Image: Mirror newspaper

Most defibrillators ‘talk’ to you to tell you what to do when you open them up. If your one doesnt ‘talk’, there will always be easy instructions inside ALL defibrillator boxes.

After CALL, its PUSH and RESCUE.

Even if you’ve not been to a formal training session, you can learn how to PUSH from YouTube. Vinnie Jones has made a video with a ‘CPR lesson you’ll never forget’.

But the CPR on the video below is even better. Mini Vinnie demonstrates that hands-only CPR is – literally – childsplay:

Keep going with the CPR. Remember, you’ll at least DOUBLE the person’s chances of survival if you keep going with CPR until the ambulance arrives.

To remind you exactly what to do for hands-only CPR, and to check that you are pushing hard enough and fast enough, you can get the free British Heart Foundation Pocket CPR app here.

But if you really want to try doing CPR, the nearest you’re going to get to real life without it actually happening is the crisis simulator live action movie game Life-saver.

Practicing what to do in this live action movie game means you’ll be much better able to help if you ever witness a cardiac arrest in real life.

Try it out here (you’ll need to have Flashplayer). It takes a few moments for the game to load up: please wait while the circle whizzes round to reach 100. Then you have to Click that you have read and accepted the terms of the Lifesaver website. You don’t have to put your details in unless you want to (you can get a certificate!). But you must press ‘Enter’. Look down to click on ‘Menu’. Choose a name and press Start Now.

This simulator is very like real life. Pay attention! You’re about to try to restart a heart! Although this video game is very realistic then, unlike in real life, you can always try againEspecially if you’re as old as me and don’t immediately understand all the fine details of video gaming!

Please let me know how it went! I’m at

Economical Funerals?

economical funerals_pinterest budget memorial service
Economical funerals sounds like a contradiction in terms – since they just keep on and on getting more and MORE expensive!

A funeral using a funeral director costs on average £4,078. In London, the cost is almost double this.

 I’m NOT suggesting that you or your family wants something cheap and nasty!
But you wouldn’t buy a car or something else costing THOUSANDS of pounds without checking out the options
And there are massive variations depending on the funeral director, and what options can be chosen for more economical funerals.
Put your postcode in here for local information.
Remember to tick the box for ‘search direct cremations’ if that’s what you want – that’s the cheapest option

‘Funeral plans’ are on the TV at the moment – suggesting that these are ‘the thing to do’ for caring mums and dads / grans and grandads. BUT .. are they just a con?

Do funeral plans actually provide economical funerals at all?

Like with a funeral, I think you need to be very very careful when / if you buy a funeral plan!
There’s some good general advice here

It’s not only me thinks you have to be careful: look at this from the Daily Mail. That’s not a publication  I frequently recommend, but they have summed up the recent Fairer Finance report well. The actual report they are referring to is here

SO please don’t just agree to the first funeral / funeral plan you think of / see!

Debbies story

debbies story is about looking after her mum

Family members who have witnessed or taken part in unsuccessful CPR when their relatives are at the end of life are almost never heard from. But I think we all can learn from Debbies story: she’s a first aider whose frail mother collapsed at home, and who asked for her mum not to have CPR.

Debbies story: I’m a trained first aider. My Mum had lived alone since Dad died. She had always been independent, but she had four chest infections in a row last winter so I was staying with her. The problems with her chest were getting her down. She told me she was fed up with life, so I asked for a nurse to come round to assess her. Anyway, she went to the toilet, and I felt she was gone too long. When I went to check, I found her collapsed.

Faced with that situation, instinct and training kicked in. I got her onto the floor, rang for an ambulance and started CPR.

I know I broke her ribs — I felt a horrible, sickening crunching as they snapped under my hands. It was nothing like the dummy we’d practised on.

The doctors in A&E told me it was common in elderly people, but they never teach you that on first aid courses. And it was all so undignified, squashed in her hallway, and me knowing all the time that if I revived her she would probably never forgive me.

I don’t know how long the ambulance took to arrive, but it felt like forever. I was glad to hand Mum over to the professionals and did my best to pull her pants back up and try to restore at least a little dignity to her. They applied the paddles, and got her heart beating. But I couldn’t tell the ambulance service that I wanted to let her go. That I knew my Mum. That I knew there was no way she would want to live the remainder of her life no longer capable of being independent.

She was unconscious but they got her stable enough to transport her to hospital. I left in my car at the same time but arrived at the hospital before them. When they rushed her into A&E, the ambulance-men told me that I’d given her the best possible chance of survival, but her heart had stopped again on the journey and they’d had to resuscitate her again.

The A&E staff were brilliant. But on the way there I’d had time to think. Mum had managed to plan her funeral — she’d even written down what she wanted to wear, what to place in her coffin and the exact service she wanted because she’d been so impressed with Dad’s funeral.

But we hadn’t thought about the actual dying. And nobody teaches you the words to say when you want the doctors to let somebody go. Not to resuscitate them if their heart stops again.

It was not an easy decision but I knew it was right. Your head is saying “let her go” but your gut is churning and you desperately don’t want her to die. You also do worry about what the doctors will think of you — will they think you don’t care? Will they try to persuade you to change your mind when it’s already the most difficult decision you’ve ever had to make?

I could bear that the professionals might think badly of me. But I couldn’t bear that my Mum would hate me for keeping her alive without being fully restored to health and fitness and I just knew no doctor could do that. They agreed to make her comfortable, not to try resuscitating her again, and see how she fared through the night.

I was called back to the hospital at 4.30 the next morning as they thought the end was near. The doctors told me her body was shutting down. The decision to turn off the life support machines was easy, as was the decision to donate her corneas. If something good was going to come out of tragedy, that was a comfort. I held her hand as she passed away. But by the time I said the words I’d always wanted to say, my Mum was unconscious. I’ve been told that hearing is the last sense to go so I like to think she did hear.

No one wants their Mum to die. But who wants their Mum to suffer? I loved my Mum enough to try to save her. But I also loved her enough to let her go.

‘Debbie’ is not this person’s real name. But this is a real story, and these are ‘Debbie’s’ real words.

My comments:

Debbies story is clear about howDebbie truly did put her Mum front and centre — despite her worry that the doctors might think she didn’t care. I admire Debbie’s bravery both in trying to save her mum and — even more difficult — in letting her mum go.

I wrote back to Debbie about how sorry I was, not only about what happened to her Mum, but also that she had to do all this by herself. Writing to me was the first time Debbie had shared her story and, although I reassured her, she was still — 2 years later — worrying that the ribs she had broken had contributed to her Mum’s death (they hadnt).

Maybe the biggest lesson, though, is that talking about all of this earlier could have helped. It may not have prevented the collapse, but it could have prevented the CPR, and all the medical interventions that happened.

Even more importantly, it might have given Debbie time to say “the words I’d always wanted to say”.

The big practical distinction to make is between cardiac arrests when the heart stops first, and natural dying. These are quite different things. Dr Dan Beckett has explained how cardiac arrests may (may!) have a reversible cause, while natural dying doesn’t.

In a cardiac arrest, the heart stops first. Quite often this follows a heart attack and problems with electricity in the heart. Defibrillation may sometimes be able to restart the heart.

In a natural death, the heart tends to stop last, as part of the natural process of dying. CPR is likely to be futile because the body is dying. It may even be harmful since it leads to an undignified death, and may prolong the dying process.


Debbies story remembers Debbie’s Mum. And it’s in honour of Debbie, who has told me: “If anyone else can benefit or learn from my story, at least something positive will come out of it”.

Eggy miracles. Or: Three things to consider near the end of life

By Eggy Miracles, I mean: Keep on living! Scroll down for more on this.

Here’s my top three things for individuals and families to consider doing when someone is near the end of life.

  1. Keep on living. If you don’t like Eggy Miracles, this can mean whatever else you do like doing!
  2. Get the super-important-practical things done in plenty of time
  3. Talk, talk, talk

Read more…

Use SPICT to identify individuals moving towards the end of life


SPICT TM (Supportive & Palliative Care Indicators Tool) can help doctors identify people with life-limiting illnesses and/or deteriorating health. This is a suggestion for GPs who want to ensure their practice palliative care register is as comprehensive as possible. 

A GP with 2000 patients should expect, each year, 7-8 deaths from dementia/frailty, 6 from organ failure (eg COPD, heart failure) and 5 from cancer. Does the practice palliative care register reflect this?

If a practice doesn’t already have 1% of its practice list on the palliative care register and/or are trying to identify people at risk of acute deteriorations and hospital admission, SPICT TM can help.

Read more…

Medical decision making is better the PATH way

I was really excited when I read about Canadian ideas about the PATH style of decision making. Palliative And Therapeutic Harmonisation looks at older people with multiple conditions in a totally different way than the current ‘cult of cure’ approach. It’s less about keeping on ‘battling’, and more about quality of life and care at home.

Then I found four videos which go through the whole PATH to better decision making. In case you don’t have time to watch them all (and do please try to make time!), then here’s my summary.

Read more…

Choice in a demographic timebomb?

demographic timebomb

There’s lot of talk about the demographic timebomb — with increases in life expectancy, and the trend (in the West) for smaller family sizes.

Globally the percentage of the population that is 65 or older will double from 10% to 20% by 2050. In the UK, forecasts suggest there will be only 3.3 working age adults earning money to support the pensions and care of each elderly person.

This is better than in Japan, where there are only 2.1, but much less secure than the 11.3 in Bangladesh.

This demographic timebomb is not only an economic problem. Where are all the carers going to come from as these older people get sicker and frailer, and need support?

Read more…

The best videos on palliative care?

When I spoke at St Josephs hospice on home deaths, the lovely audience wanted specific links to what I think are the best videos on palliative care. Here they are below.

Before that though, I wanted to share some more local data. I spoke about the shocking effects on deprivation in Scotland, and said it would be similar elsewhere. I’m not happy to be proved right.

This week’s BMA News Review says that, in Tower Hamlets, “adults can expect to have the disease profile of a 75 year old at the age of just 55”.

So, it’s even more important to look at Martin Wilson on ‘realistic palliative care for an ageing population’. This includes shocking data, and shocking conclusions, on how living and dying if you’re in a deprived area is like being on another planet. As well as how death is a feminist issue:

Then, here’s Kieran Sweeney talking about how, amongst other things “… clinicians inadvertently heap small humiliations on patients”. This is, sadly, true. Please talk a moment to think if you have ever done this. Not on purpose, of course! And how you might never do it again.



Compassionate Neighbours gets a makeover

After the Compassionate Neighbours makeover: the new advert card

What a great Compassionate Neighbours makeover! The St Josephs hospice initiative is now offering “friendship and a listening ear” to anyone who asks for this — rather than focusing only on people at the end of life. This will surely increase the referrals.

It may even mean that people who doctors might label as at the ‘end of life’ get help earlier.

Those who contact the new improved Compassionate Neighbours will be given information about a wide range of local services. Anyone who is nearing the end of life can be offered the ongoing excellent Compassionate Neighbours end-of-life service.

I already commented on the first ever randomised trial of effectiveness of volunteers at the end of life. This had problems getting enough referrals. I think the Compassionate Neighbours makeover will help with this sort of problem.

Individuals and families — especially people with long term conditions — don’t like being told they are close to, or at, the ‘end of life’.

They are, after all, spending more time time living than dying.

Maybe other end-of-life services need to learn from the Compassionate Neighbours makeover?