Coaxing doctors to confess

BMJ 2001; 323 doi: (Published 20 October 2001) Cite this as: BMJ 2001;323:890

As the government gets ready to roll out the patient safety agency across the country, Geoff Watts meets Rory Shaw, the man chosen for the task

All governments have an interest in emphasising success. So Professor Rory Shaw, recently appointed chairman of the nascent National Patient Safety Agency, has a point when he applauds this government's courage. “I actually think it's quite brave of the Department of Health to be creating a debate about the aspects of clinical care that don't go as well as they should do.”

Fair enough. But this is also a government that has received—perhaps earned—repeated criticism for a succession of plans, policies, and initiatives designed to foster an appearance of improvement even in its absence. Might not the agency turn out to be one more such sleight of hand? Shaw's response is, naturally, to distance the agency from any such suggestion.

“I can see why such criticisms are made,” he concedes. “But I think the agency has a clear and useful job. It's something that all the clinicians I know see as having a vital function. It's the sort of thing we've been doing for years with morbidity and mortality review meetings.” In other words the agency is founded on something created by the profession, not something dreamed up by a political adviser with an eye to electoral popularity.

So what is this job? At present the agency has 25 pilot schemes running at a …

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