Gloucestershire treatment algorithm is harmful and at odds with NICE

Gloucestershire is a beautiful county – but like the villages in Midsomer Murders, a potentially harmful place to live if you need B12 injections and your GP follows this Primary Care Management Treatment Algorithm. (4th section down).

How many B12 deficient patients are at risk of permanent damage in this area? How many struggle with poor mental health? How many are bed bound, confused, living in pain believing that their B12 deficiency is being ‘treated’ so wondering what on earth is causing their body and mind to feel like it’s shutting down?

There are threads on Twitter of doctors from Gloucestershire proudly sharing this treatment algorithm and feeling really smart because they were ahead of the COVID 19 curve in giving just about everybody oral B12 supplements.

It’s all in your mind…

I’ve heard of many patients being told that their debilitating symptoms can’t be due to B12 deficiency. That it’s more likely to be due to their age, their lifestyle, or the fact they have young children, or a stressful job, or – and this is the worst, that it’s all in their “imagination”.

So the long suffering patient is either sent to hospital to see every other Tom Dick or Harry in a network of ‘ologists’ often waiting months for appointments in order that it satisfies the urge of the GP to pin the symptoms on ‘something else’ because ‘it won’t be B12 deficiency causing the symptoms because your serum levels are really high at 200pg/ml.”

My own deficiency could have been ignored if I’d lived in this area. You’ll see they don’t appear to bother with people with serum level’s over 180pg/ml. I was diagnosed with a level of 216 (reference range of 220 -771). I wouldn’t even be worthy of the GP looking at the chart despite my many presenting symptoms. The problem of differing reference ranges of B12 levels has been well documented and the BMJ state that there is no ideal test and that the clinical picture is of utmost importance.

Terrifying isn’t it?

What’s really worrying about B12 deficiency and the way it is handled by those who have little knowledge of it, is that the patient very often starts off in the dark and then remains in the dark because they ‘trust’ that their GP is ‘all knowing’. They don’t consider that the information their GP has imparted is not complete, not properly informed, not helpful. They then deteriorate, but don’t question their treatment, don’t ask Dr Google, don’t seek more information because they have been either pushed down another path for a further red herring diagnosis or just simply ignored.

How to start treatment with B12 injections in Gloucestershire using this algorithm: 

  1. Your B12 has to be lower than 180pg/ml
  2. You must have neurological symptoms (on their list)
  3. You must have macrocytosis and anaemia
  4. You must be positive for anti intrinsic factor antibodies – (but after loading you will be put on oral tablets!)

But if you are not presenting with the list of ‘allowed neurological symptoms’ i.e. those recognised by your GP – and you have no anaemia (which by the way, is not always present and can be a very late stage symptom) then, even if your result falls between 150-180 – the GP is instructed to:

“Reassure the patient that this is unlikely to be of concern. Recheck serum B12 after 3 months, if still low, monitor B12 level every 6 months for 1 year and then annually for 2-5 years.” 

Now I’m no rocket scientist but even I know that this is pure bonkers. It still offers no treatment.

B12 deficiency comes in all shapes and sizes, with many causes and many symptoms

If I use my own case as an exercise of using this algorithm here: –
My level was 220, I had no anaemia, no IFA, no neurological symptoms that they list, but I was losing my memory, I had bowel and bladder problems, blurred vision, insomnia, anxiety, low back problems to name a just a few and yet I wouldn’t warrant treating. I dread to think how quickly I would have been confined to a care home with early onset dementia if I had been ‘cared for’ here.

Even if I had PA, if my GP had used this chart I would be placed onto oral tablets following the loading dose. This is complete madness. (Please see more on the low quality evidence on oral supplementation  here)

If my deficiency had been caused by malabsorption due to a drug such as metformin for diabetes I would have been advised to take calcium supplements or increase dietary calcium but would not be  given B12 injections in fact I would only be allowed B12 oral tablets. This is totally bizarre, misinformed guidance.

Where is the patient?

At no point does this algorithm suggest LISTENING to the patient or considering the clinical picture. The patient doesn’t exist here, just blood forms and it’s completely wrong.

The only tiny mention ‘people’ get here is the suggestion that buying oral supplements over the counter may be cheaper than the NHS Prescription charge. WOW.

This algorithm is at odds with NICE guidance and is a ridiculous home-made protocol which won’t work for the vast majority. It’s time for Gloucestershire to start following good practice for patients.

What NICE state:

  • Not thought to be diet related — administer hydroxocobalamin 1 mg intramuscularly every 2–3 months for life.
  • Thought to be diet related — advise people either to take oral cyanocobalamin tablets 50–150 micrograms daily

So what can be done?

If you are in Gloucestershire – (or anywhere else this is happening), why not take action to make change? Your voice counts and you absolutely matter.

Why not contact;
The Expert Patient Programme – (The EPP is an NHS initiative to improve the lives of those living with long-term conditions such as diabetes, Parkinson’s, lupus, epilepsy, ME, arthritis, fibromyalgia or heart disease). NHS Gloucestershire offers the Expert Patient Programme (EPP) which you can access by telephone on 0300 421 1623

B12 deficiency is a long term condition, you have a lot to offer, make sure you are represented! Get you voice heard here and ask for their help.

Healthwatch
You could also call Healthwatch Gloucestershire on 0800 652 5193 tell them your story, ask for their help in accessing correct treatment.

Write to your CCG, why not email your MP and maybe send them this blog? Why not ask your friends and family to do the same?

The BSH have recently bowed under public pressure let’s help Gloucestershire to do the same here, make your voice count!

Don’t let your GP take you down Folly Lane, there is no time for foolishness or delay in treating B12 deficiency, time is of the essence and you deserve every chance possible of repairing your nerves.

Very best wishes

Tracey
www.b12deficiency.info

If you think you might be B12 deficient please click here, and please try not to supplement before testing.

Please add your signature here if you would like to support making B12 OTC in the UK – Please DO NOT pay to sign! Any money given does not go toward the cause you are supporting.

 

Pernicious anaemia (PA) or B12 deficiency – which is worse?

Patients with a diagnosis of PA (pernicious anaemia) do not experience a more excruciating pain or a different kind of damage than someone who has a diagnosis of B12 deficiency due to another cause.

Both B12 deficiency and PA cause damage to the protective fatty coating (myelin) of the nerves. PA patients are often thought to have a ‘worse’ form of the condition but this is not true.

Diagnosis and treatment of B12 deficiency often proves to be a very difficult challenge for the patient but in some areas a diagnosis of PA (a positive IFAB test) can represent a ‘golden ticket’ to treatment, leaving others with identical symptoms, but no confirmed diagnosis of PA, without any treatment at all. It is important to note that “A negative Intrinsic Factor antibody result does not exclude the diagnosis of PA as only 60% of patients with PA will have this antibody”.

PA and B12 deficiency (unless it is caused purely by dietary lack) are caused due to an inability to absorb B12 from food and therefore B12 injections are required to bypass the stomach.

There would be uproar if our doctors only used plaster casts for a broken arms if the cause were a skiing accident whilst treating everyone else with a broken arm with a sticking plaster.  This scenario is what’s happening far too regularly with B12 deficiency and the situation is down to lack of education and correct, clear information about this condition.

This condition can have a devastating effect whatever the cause. If you choose a diet which avoids animal products then you should supplement with B12 in order to access this vital nutrient. Of course vegetarians and vegans might also be at risk due to a co existing cause so it is advisable to familiarise yourself with these in case they too apply to you.

You’ll see there are so many more causes to consider as well as PA;

  • Decreased stomach acid
  • Atrophic gastritis
  • Autoimmune pernicious anaemia
  • Helicobacter pylori
  • Gastrectomy, partial or complete
  • Gastric bypass surgery (weight loss)
  • Intestinal resection
  • Partial or complete ileectomy
  • Gastrointestinal neoplasms
  • Malnutrition
  • Eating disorders  – anorexia – bulimia
  • Inadequate diet
  • Vegetarianism / veganism
  • Malabsorption syndromes
  • Alcoholism
  • Crohn’s disease
  • Coeliac disease (gluten enteropathy)
  • Dipphyllobothrium infection
  • blind loop syndrome
  • diverticulosis
  • inflammatory bowel disease
  • small bowel overgrowth
  • tropical sprue
  • gastric irradiation
  • ileal irradiation (bladder,cervix, uterus,prostate)
  • Inborn errors of B12 metabolism
  • Transcobalamin II deficiency
  • Pancreatic exocrine insufficiency & Chronic pancreatitis
  • Imerslund Gräesbeck syndrome
  • Zollinger – Ellison Syndrome
  • Bacterial overgrowth (small bowel)
  • Fish tapeworm
  • Advanced liver disease

Drug induced causes – Please note; this list is not exhaustive

  • Antacids
  • Colchicine (treatment of gout)
  • H2 Blockers (Zantac, Tagamet, Pepcid)
  • Metformin – Diabetes drug (Glucophage)
  • PPI’s – Proton pump inhibitors (Omeprazole, Nexium, Prevacid, Protonix)
  • Nitrous oxide anaesthesia
  • Nitrous oxide recreational abuse (Laughing gas / Whippets / Hippy crack)
  • Mycifradin sulphate (Neomycin) antibiotic
  • Para aminosalicylates  antibiotic
  • Phenytoin (Dilantin) – anti-epileptic
  • Potassium chloride (K-Dur)
  • Cholestyramine (Questran)
  • Chemotherapy and radiation treatment

Increased demands

  • Chronic Hemoltic anaemia
  • Hyperthroidism
  • Multiple myeloma
  • Myelopproliferative disorders
  • Neoplasms
  • Pregnancy

Some patients may never find out the cause of their condition, this does not mean that they should be denied B12 injections which are, safe, inexpensive and the most efficient treatment for their deficiency.

Our doctors may only have learnt about pernicious anaemia and not the wider picture of B12 deficiency during their training. My own GP said his tuition on the subject lasted around half an hour. This partial information can lead to our GPs thinking that B12 deficient patients without a confirmed diagnosis of PA do not require treatment by injection. Some mistakenly believe that a patient can use oral 50mcg cyanocobalamin tablets to correct their deficiency despite an inability to absorb B12 from food. Obviously this ignorance can lead to serious consequences.

Please see below;

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Even when the patient receiving the letter above reported that they do eat meat fish eggs and dairy they were still incorrectly told that they didn’t require further B12 injections.

Everybody with B12 deficiency is affected differently and has a different degree  of damage and severity of symptoms, and so an individual requirement and frequency of treatment. Often the missing link in treatment is proper communication with the patient. Listening to how their condition affects them rather than restricting treatment according to the ink on paper detailing blood results would have a profoundly positive effect.

Imagine how the advice celebrity GP, Dr Hilary gives, makes this patient feel?
He states that; if her blood levels are ok she ‘doesn’t need injections now’ but that her “long standing forgetfulness may not be reversible”. Oh dear.

Our GP’s training is incomplete, they have not been given all the information required to treat patients with B12 deficiency correctly. Consequently both them and us are being done a disservice.

Their education needs to include the simple fact that if a patient is B12 deficient and their diet includes animal products, then they will need injections for the best chance for nerves to heal – whatever the cause. (Surely it goes without saying that if someone choosing a vegan diet is seriously ill due to lack of B12 they they should not be denied the right to injections in order to facilitate a swift recovery).

I know that many reading this will state that very high dose sublingual tablets are as good as injections, but the fact is they don’t suit everyone, they are not available to everyone and your doctor may be unaware of their existence.

There is much written about 1000mcg oral cyanocobalamin being a good substitute for injections – that a patient will absorb 1% by passive diffusion. (Too low to chance?) However these journals focus on serum levels and not how the patient is feeling. Why limit the chance of recovery in this way when the injections work perfectly?

It would be helpful if patients were treated as individuals, as per their symptoms, rather than the idea that one cause of this condition is worse than another.

If you are a healthcare professional reading this, please see the homepage of the website for more information about the issues that face patients.

Best wishes

Tracey
 www.b12deficiency.info

Ref; Published: 15 March 2018 Authors:Wang H, Li L, Qin L, Song Y, Vidal-Alaball J, Liu T http://www.cochrane.org/CD004655/ENDOC_oral-vitamin-b12-compared-intramuscular-vitamin-b12-vitamin-b12-deficiency

P.s. Thank you to all who have signed and shared the OTC petition – we are at nearly 60,000 signatures! You are making a difference and I continue to work toward this goal.

Have you seen our B12 for Life pin?