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Child patients: WNB not DNA

BMJ 2010; 341 doi: (Published 10 November 2010) Cite this as: BMJ 2010;341:c6332
  1. Michael Roe, consultant in child health, Southampton University Hospitals NHS Trust
  1. michael.roe{at}

Some three letter acronyms have become so universally used and accepted within medical language and indeed the wider world that they are easily recognisable and understood. DNA stands either for deoxyribonucleic acid, as I learnt in medical school, or “did not attend,” its more commonly used meaning within the healthcare setting. DNA is regularly scrawled across patients’ notes, and DNA rates are a feature of hospital data monitoring systems.

However, can children “not attend”? In most appointments where children are seen by a health professional the child is brought to the appointment by their parent or carer—a “caring” responsibility. When the child is not brought to an appointment it is the parent or carer who does not attend. For the child the reality of the situation is that they were not brought. As in almost all of child care it is the caring adult who is active, and the child is passive. If the adult does not bring the child to the appointment it seems unfair to say that the child did not attend. Furthermore the label DNA can be seen as derogatory or punitive, making its use in a paediatric setting even less …

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