Intended for healthcare professionals

Feature Patient Safety

Standing up for safety

BMJ 2009; 338 doi: (Published 09 June 2009) Cite this as: BMJ 2009;338:b2286
  1. Nigel Hawkes, freelance journalist
  1. 1London
  1. nigel.hawkes1{at}

    Junior doctors are ideally placed to spread safer healthcare practices. Nigel Hawkes reports on a conference calling them to arms

    Health care is a dangerous business. One in 300 patients admitted to hospital will die as a result of a medical error, and 1 in 10 will be harmed. But need it be so dangerous, and what needs to change to make it safer? A one day conference held in London on 1 June aimed to make junior doctors more aware about patient safety. The conference, which was jointly organised by the Department of Health, BAMMbino (the junior doctor arm of the British Association of Medical Managers), the BMJ, and the National Patient Safety Agency, saw a lively exchange of views between the profession’s leaders and the next generation—who made it plain in forceful and formidably articulate contributions from the floor that plenty needs to be done.

    Would anybody ever get on a commercial airline flight if told before boarding that the chances of dying were 1 in 300? Liam Donaldson, the chief medical officer, who posed the question, said: “That’s quite a scary statistic. We shouldn’t be performing at this level.” Bruce Keogh, the NHS medical director, recalling his days as a junior doctor in the 1980s, said that when he felt on some of his rotations that “things looked dodgy” he was given the long tendered advice: “Look, mate, it’s been the same for 30 years. You’re only here for six months, lie low and look after your career.”

    Today, he asserted, things were better. England now had the most comprehensive system for reporting medical mistakes of any country in the world. But the future was in the hands of trainee doctors, many of whom “feel utterly remote as a result of events in the not too …

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