Intended for healthcare professionals

Feature Patient Safety

Risky business

BMJ 2009; 339 doi: (Published 30 September 2009) Cite this as: BMJ 2009;339:b3964
  1. Oliver Ellis, Clegg scholar
  1. 1BMJ, London WC1H 9JR
  1. oellis{at}

    A conference last month showed the universal nature of a safety culture, reports Oliver Ellis

    It is not always immediately obvious what health professionals can learn about improving patient safety from the likes of sport, aerospace, banking, or the fight against apartheid. But the idea that health care has much to learn from other industries was the main thrust behind Risky Business, a conference held on 17-18 September hosted by Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children and supported in part by the BMJ. Speakers from all over the world gathered in London to tell how their organisations have improved safety and discuss what lessons medicine can learn.

    One common ground between sport and health care is the use of effective communication to ensure that teams work well together. Brendan Venter, a general practitioner and director of rugby for Saracens, described how he implemented a change in the way players talked at his club.

    “In the rugby environment we’ve got a lot of aggressive people and things happen quickly, so there’s not a lot of soft talk,” he said. “One of the players was playing, and a training assistant dropped the ball. And the team went for him like a pack of wolves. It was just the culture they had. And I stood back and I said, ‘Wow, how many people actually function if you speak like that to them?’”

    He started promoting positivity and encouragement within the team and believes that he has got good results. “There are unbelievably few people that react well to negative criticism,” he said. “People function when you encourage them.”

    Recognising the importance of communication to improve health care, some hospitals have introduced programmes to help teams to communicate. Peter Laussen, chief of cardiovascular intensive care at the Children’s Hospital of Boston, described several …

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