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Cardiac surgery in the Dunkirk spirit

BMJ 1995; 311 doi: (Published 16 December 1995) Cite this as: BMJ 1995;311:1648
  1. Tom Treasure


    At Dunkirk troops waited on the beaches with no certainty of a place in a ship, and then queued in line out into the sea to cross the Straits of Dover. The craft that took them were overloaded, the crews under pressure, tired, pushing their endurance beyond what was reasonable in any planned operation. But the circumstances were desperate. That rout came to be seen not as the retreat of a defeated army, but as a victory of humanity against the odds. There is something about the practice of cardiac surgery in the health service in Britain in 1995 that reminds me of Dunkirk.

    We struggle to stay within the 12 months' waiting time that the patients' charter promises. Each week we fail to make the progress on the waiting lists that we would dearly like because more urgent patients are in the hospital and demand our attention. Elective admissions are cancelled as we struggle to clear the inpatients, waiting like the queue in the water at Dunkirk. In order to cope we fill …

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