Response to radiation incidents and radionuclear threats

BMJ 2004; 328 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.328.7447.1074 (Published 29 April 2004) Cite this as: BMJ 2004;328:1074

Medical treatment should be given only when safe to do so

  1. Jonathan R Benger, consultant in emergency medicine (Jonathan.Benger{at}ubht.swest.nhs.uk)
  1. Emergency Department, Bristol Royal Infirmary, Bristol BS2 8HW

    EDITOR—Turai et al reviewed the medical response to radiation incidents and radionuclear threats.1 Puzzlingly, they say that providing care for a patient in a life threatening condition always has priority over decontamination from radioactive materials or those actions required for the safety of others involved (medical staff, emergency rescue teams) or related to the wider public and environment.1 I disagree.

    This statement will encourage inexperienced staff to disregard the safety of themselves and others in a “heroic” attempt to treat those ill and injured. The latest edition of the Major Incident Medical Management and Support Course rightly emphasises self and scene safety over that of survivors.2 Experience has shown again and again that well meaning but poorly trained or equipped rescue and medical staff are highly likely to become further victims.3 As an example, the article points out that some of the 28 radiation deaths from the Chernobyl disaster of 1986 were among fire fighters.

    Medical treatment should be given only when it is safe to do so: poorly considered and risky actions will simply lengthen the list of casualties.


    • Competing interests None declared.


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