Intended for healthcare professionals

Observations On the Contrary

Repeat after me: “Mid Staffordshire”

BMJ 2010; 340 doi: (Published 13 January 2010) Cite this as: BMJ 2010;340:c188
  1. Tony Delamothe, deputy editor, BMJ
  1. tdelamothe{at}

    The 21st century has spawned its own species of medical scandal. It’s time for a closer look

    Which of the following is the odd one out, and why?

    • Alder Hey (retention of children’s organs)

    • Bristol (children’s heart surgery)

    • Shipman (serial killer)

    • Mid Staffordshire (emergency services)

    The right answer is Mid Staffordshire. Score one point if you selected it because it’s a 21st century scandal, whereas the other three date from the previous century. Score double if you selected it because you hardly remember any details 10 months after it was reported, whereas you aren’t allowed to forget the other three.

    The short term amnesia concerning Mid Staffordshire is particularly curious if you compare the death tolls associated with the scandals: Alder Hey (0), Bristol (30 to 35), Shipman (probably 250), Mid Staffordshire (400 to 1200). The nature of the ensuing inquiries may be relevant here. The 20th century inquiries were usually fronted by the good and the great, went on for years, and generated reams of finely crafted recommendations. (Janet Smith’s six reports on Harold Shipman, four years in the making, ran to more than 2500 pages.)

    By contrast, Investigation into Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust ran to a meagre 172 pages and came with an initial assurance that it was …

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