18 DECEMBER 1976

CORRESPONDENCE Reactions to dextran R J Fothergill, FRCOG, and G A H Heaney, FFARCSI



The NHS is dead: long live the NHS J C Spence, MB; J M Gate, FRCOG ........ 1502 Defence against bacterial drug resistance ....... 1503 T D Wyatt, PHD, and others ..... Paroxysmal brain stem dysfunction in multiple sclerosis M L E Espir, FRCP, and P A H Millac, MD.. 1503 Penicillin-insensitive pneumococci D J Hansman, FRCPA; L P Garrod, FRCP.... 1503 Alcohol-induced Cushingoid syndrome A Paton, FRCP ........................ 1504 Is there a future for community medicine? I G Jones, MRCP; R Barclay, MD, and others



Sodium valproate: dosage for children "Whiplash" injuries and seatbelts R B Smith, MD ........................ 1507 W Gissane, FRCS, and J P Bull, FRCP ...... 1505 Pseudomonas cepacia as contaminant of Survival at sea propamidine disinfectants Dorothy Cullen, MFCM .................. 1507 R M Stirland, MD, and J A Tooth, MRCP; D-Penicillamine J E Shinner, FPS ...................... 1505 ........... 1507 D A Brewerton, FRCP ....... Undesirable publicity for GMC hearings Preoperative skin preparation P M Kinloch, MB ...................... 1505 S P Linton, MRCP, and A H Linton, BUPA and the long-stay patient FRCPATH .............................. 1507 R G Cooper, MRCP, and L A M Ford, IMIA. . 1505 Antibiotic use in general practice The hospitals we need Rev J B Metcalfe, MB; J G R Howie, MD.. 1508 I S L Loudon, FRCGP ....... ........... 1506 Sectional strife Myocardial infarction-home or hospital Sally Blackburn, MB .................... 1508 care? JHDA R L Logan, MRACP; R C Mac Keith, FRCP; J R Sampson, MB ...................... 1508 K Edwards .......................... 1506 Are dietitians a luxury? Junior Members Forum D Bell, MRCP .......................... 1508 Freda S Patton, sRD .................... 1507

Correspondents are urged to write briefly so that readers may be offered as wide a selection of letters as possible. So many are being received that the omission of some is inevitable. Letters should be signed personally by all their authors. Reactions to dextran SIR,-Professor N L Browse and his colleagues have written a very interesting account of methods they adopted to prevent postoperative pulmonary embolism (27 November, p 1281). They were very fortunate to observe no side effects from dextran (p 1283). We are writing to emphasise that side effects due to dextrans 40 and 70 require serious attention. The issue of the BMJ which contains the paper by Professor Browse and his associates also includes an account by Dr T G Feest (p 1300) of episodes of renal failure caused by low-molecular-weight dextrans. This year we have been dismayed by two severe reactions to dextran 70. We have therefore stopped using it routinely for the prevention of postoperative phlebothrombosis and pulmonary embolism. Case 1-This patient had an alarming adverse reaction which we were sure was anaphylaxis attributable to the infusion of only a few millilitres of 6 % dextran 70 (Lomodex 70, Fisons). A healthy 42-year-old nurse was anaesthetised for postnatal tubal ligations. Shortly after induction of general anaesthesia a dextran 70 infusion was started. When only a few drops of the solution had been given urticaria appeared in the arm receiving the infusion and in her face and neck, and her heart stopped. Death was averted only by rapid vigorous resuscitation. Case 2-This patient also exhibited a severe reaction to a small amount of Lomodex 70 and we believe that the hypoxia occurring during prostration was responsible for acute fetal distress. A 21-year-old subfertile primigravida at term (married five years) was given dextran 70 because she had a painful swollen leg. An immediate reaction took place. Maternal pallor and hypotension was accompanied by profound fetal bradycardia and passage of meconium when amniotomy was performed. These cases have been reported to the Committee on Safety of Medicines. Dr R A Thompson, of the Regional

Immunological Laboratory (East Birmingham Hospital), and Dr J Brostoff (Middlesex Hospital, for Fisons Ltd) have very kindly examined sera from these patients in order to study the mechanisms underlying the anaphylaxis. We have studied some reports about reactions induced by dextran and found no grounds for complacency. Bauer and Ostlingt referred to a patient who died from circulatory arrest after a dextran reaction. Representatives of Fisons, the makers of the dextran we used, kindly supplied copies of many other reports.2-14 We found these articles very disturbing. Dextran reactions may be uncommon, but we believe that they are too dangerous for us to carry on with a dextran 70 routine for the prevention of postoperative clots. ROGER FOTHERGILL G A HEANEY Good Hope General Hospital, Sutton Coldfield, W Midlands

Bauer, A, and Ostling, F, Acta Anaesthesiologica Scandinavica, 1970, 37, suppl, p 182. 'Bailey, G, et al, Journal of the American Medical Association, 1967, 200, 889. 3 Brisman, R, Parks, L C, and Haller, J A, journal of the American Medical Association, 1968, 204, 324. ' Doubloug, I, Journal of the Oslo City Hospitals, 1974, 24, 75. Getzen, J H, and Speiggle, W, Archives of Internal Medicine, 1963, 112, 168. ' Gonzalez, D, Gurdjian, E S, and Thomas, L M, Neurology, 1970, 20, 1139. Henley, E E, McPhaul, J J, and Albert, S N, Medical Annals of the District of Columbia, 1968, 27, 21. 8Maddi, V I, Wyso, E M, and Zinner, E N, Angiology, 1969, 20, 243. Maltby, J R, British Journal of Anaesthesia, 1968, 40, 552. Michelson, E, New England Journal of Medicine, 1968, Shephard, D A E, and Vandam, L D, Anesthesiology, 1964, 25, 244. *2Vitali, P, and Cavagnini, F, Anestesiae Rianimazione 1969, 10, 339. '3 Waldhausen, E, et al, Anaesthesist, 1975, 24, 129. Webster, A L, Comfort, P T, and Fisher, A J G, South African Medical Journal, 1973, 47, 2421.

The NHS is dead: long live the NHS SIR,-Dr T F Davies's open letter to Sir Alec Merrison (4 December, p 1376) is an impressive collection of inaccuracies, unsupported assertions, non sequiturs, and illiteracies. I will not comment on the illiteracies because the medicoliterary giants whose letters have recently sparkled in your columns seem unable to instruct others without falling over their own feet; besides, it would take too much space. The notion that teaching hospitals must be more efficient than peripheral hospitals is not supported by the figures quoted in Dr Davies's table. Both teaching hospitals were less successful in saving the lives of patients with myocardial infarction than three of the peripheral hospitals and no more successful than two more. The results could be the starting point for a study of the factors that make some hospitals better than others but, as they stand, prove nothing. Primary medical care, we read, should be "a disease prevention service combined with appropriate screening programmes." Appropriate to what? I would like to see Dr Davies produce evidence that screening for anything but hypertension and pulmonary tuberculosis has affected morbidity and mortality figures. Disease prevention and health education have traditionally been the business of the medical officer of health, now the community physician, but the general practitioner repeatedly tells his fat patients to eat less and his patients with bronchitis, peptic ulcer, or angina to stop smoking cigarettes. Basic and selfevidently good advice, one would think, but while medical treatment is free people will not stop doing what they enjoy because they are told it is bad for their health. "Fifty per cent of ill patients are seen in less than five minutes," says Dr Davies. Most of these, if they are ill at all, are suffering from minor, self-limiting diseases. The other 50% need and have more time spent on them. The first lesson leamt by an apprentice GP is that the problems he fails to solve this week will return next week and the week after that




until the patient recovers by himself, is cured, dies, or is referred for a second opinion. The GP learns to make decisions quickly and most of them, in most practices, are right. We could not escape a reference to deputising services. Dr Davies implies that the public is being duped into accepting an inferior service and then, in the next sentence, suggests approvingly that some patients may prefer the emergency locum to their own doctor. This confused attitude makes me think of a squash player trying to play forehand and backhand at the same time. Perhaps an excess of spleen has clouded Dr Davies's thinking. Very few people can talk calmly about deputising services. Some GPs, usually those who work in a large rota, regard their use as betraying shameful weakness. Others welcome them as saviours of their users' health and sanity. Newspaper columnists and politicians make great play of the deputy's having done a day's work in hospital before he comes on duty. Nobody in my recollection has ever complained that the family doctor on call for his practice has also done a full day's work and will do another tomorrow. Further on the family doctor is told to "join the 20th century and return to the practice of medicine as we understand it today." If he has never been there how can he return to it? Who are "we" ? Whose is the concept that family doctors are replacing the clergy as problem solvers and soothers ? Do family doctors want to replace the clergy? In what school of alchemy did Dr Davies learn that catalysts act on one another ? What does the Isis Centre have to do with the case? Why is there a change of person in the third paragraph under "primary medical care"-is it an example of the well-known conjugation, "I plan, you do, he is an idle slob" ? Dr Davies's plans for the future are a logical extension of his imperfect apprehension of the present. GPs, whatever they are called, have enough to do without taking on, unpaid, the work of miniconsultants. Specialisation in general practice has been tried and found unsatisfactory for doctors and patients.' If I have a hernia I want the man who repairs (not "corrects") it to be a competent surgeon, not a dilettante who will scream and turn pale if he uncovers something unexpected and nasty. Like most family doctors I diagnose, investigate, and treat not only the hypertensives and the subthyroids but the thyrotoxics, maturity-onset diabetics, congestive cardiac failures, and sufferers from a host of other diseases. There are bad hospitals, bad consultants, and bad GPs; there are fellows, readers, and research associates who work in ivory towers and, filled with the confidence born of ignorance, utter vapid bletherings. But it would be unfair, misleading, and scientifically reprehensible to generalise from the particular. J C SPENCE


1976 that, for all but rare and bizarre conditions, the quality of care, both medical and nursing, is as good in the latter. The attempt to produce factual evidence for his statements is remarkably naive from a research associate in medicine. Hospital mortality is a poor index of quality of care in myocardial infarction, and in any case the results of five of the nonteaching hospitals are as good as, or in three cases better than, those of his two teaching hospitals. Of all the letters Sir Alec Merrison will receive few will be as arrogantly misleading as the one you have just published. J M GATE

statement that "a decision to apply gentamicin cream should not be taken lightly" and hope that his words will be heeded and will lead to a much reduced usage of these preparations.


Paroxysmal brain stem dysfunction in multiple sclerosis

Defence against bacterial drug resistance

SIR,-We agree with the need to be aware of the possibility that paroxysmal disturbances may be the first manifestation of multiple sclerosis (MS), as in the patient reported by Drs W H Perks and R G Lascelles (13 November, p 1175), but their statement that such paroxysmal brain stem disturbances have not previously been reported as the sole presenting feature of MS is not correct. Several of the references given by McAlpine et all in their section on short-lived and paroxysmal attacks include case reports in which such symptoms preceded other evidence of MS. In six of our 32 patients2 with paroxysmal disturbances originating in the brain stem or spinal cord these were the initial manifestations of MS. In a more recent report of different types of paroxysmal attacks in 22 patients with MS3 there were at least four in whom paroxysmal brain stem disturbances were the first symptom of MS. We believe that such paroxysmal disturbances occur as the first manifestation of MS more commonly than is generally realised. They should be distinguished from transient ischaemic attacks as the paroxysmal disturbances of MS usually occur in a younger age group, tend to be of briefer duration, recur more frequently, and respond to carbamazepine.' It is important to recognise them not only because of the rewarding response to carbamazepine but also in anticipation of the day when effective treatment given early may prevent the irreversible stages of the disease.

SIR,-In his excellent review (16 October, p 933) Professor L P Garrod discusses the advisability of restricting the local application of antibiotics. He points out that it is important to preserve bacterial sensitivity to gentamicin and compliments the manufacturers of this antibiotic for not making a preparation in tablet form. However, we are rather worried about the use of the topical preparation of this compound and its potential for promoting resistance. We have recently seen an outbreak of gentamicin-resistant staphyloccocal infection involving 23 patients in a dermatology unit which seemed to be associated with a high usage of topical gentamicin. The total amount of this preparation used in the hospital was 15 804 15-g units in 1974-5 and 23 020 15-g units in 1975-6, of which the pharmacy estimated over 90 % were used in the dermatology unit. Our findings are to be published in detail elsewhere.' At the beginning of the outbreak the use of topical gentamicin was severely restricted and the number of patients involved then fell dramatically (see table). As can also be seen from the table the number of new patients with gentamicin-resistant staphylococci has since remained at a low level. The reason for the continuing isolations from new patients is obscure, but resistant organisms seem capable of surviving in lesions for extended periods-six and nine months respectively in two patients with varicose ulcers. Isolations of gentamicin-resistant staphylococci Month

December 1975 January 1976 February 1976 March 1976

April 1976 May 1976 June 1976 July 1976 August 1976 September 1976 October 1976

Spence, J C, British Medical Journal, 1975, 1, 390.

SIR,-Dr T F Davies (4 December, p 1376) refers to "two standards of care in the hospital service: the teaching centres and the rest" and he repeatedly uses that misleading and thoroughly objectionable term "centre of excellence." I have worked in four of his "centres" and in four peripheral hospitals and I truly believe

The Laboratories, Belfast City Hospital, Belfast

Wyatt, T, et al, Journal of Antimicrobial Chemotherapy. In press.


No of new patients involved

3 1 6 15* 3 1 1 0 2

5t 6$

Regional Department of Neurosurgery and Neurology, Derbyshire Royal Infirmary,


'McAlpine, D, Lumsden, C E, and Acheson, E D, Multiple Sclerosis-A Re-appraisal, 2nd edn, pp 185-190 and 252. Edinburgh, Livingstone, 1972. Espir, M L E, and Millac, P, Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery and Psychiatry, 1970, 33, 528. 3 Osterman, P 0, and Westerberg, C-E, Brain, 1975, 98, 189.

*Restriction of topical gentamicin usage. tIncludes two patients not directly associated with Belfast City Hospital. tlncludes three patients not directly associated with Belfast City Hospital.

Penicillin-insensitive pneumococci

An unfortunate recent trend is the isolation of gentamicin-resistant organisms both from patients in other hospitals and from patients of general practitioners (see table). Perhaps this trend is not surprising since in Northern Ireland 117 528 15-g units of topical gentamicin preparations were prescribed by general practitioners in a typical four-month period, October 1975-January 1976 (source: Chief Pharmacist, DHSS, for Northern Ireland). We certainly agree with Professor Garrod's

SIR,-I wish to correct some misconceptions regarding pneumococci with diminished sensitivity to penicillin. Professor L P Garrod writes (16 October, p 933): "Resistant strains [of pneumococci] were first encountered in New Guinea where penicillin was being used in a seemingly not very satisfactory way for the prevention of pneumonia, to which the inhabitants are said to be peculiarly subject for climatic reasons. Two others were then detected in Australia, and later others have been reported in North America, and one

Birmingham I


The NHS is dead: long live the NHS.

BRITISH MEDICAL JOURNAL 1502 18 DECEMBER 1976 CORRESPONDENCE Reactions to dextran R J Fothergill, FRCOG, and G A H Heaney, FFARCSI ...
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