Intended for healthcare professionals

Rapid response to:


NHS funding in England: money’s too tight to mention

BMJ 2016; 354 doi: (Published 01 August 2016) Cite this as: BMJ 2016;354:i4204

Rapid Response:

Learning from athletes

Perhaps there is a lesson from the performance of Team GB in the current Olympic Games. The swimming team has developed strongly in the past 20 years through a well-funded training programme which has identified ways in which each athlete can do a bit better. Incremental improvements have made a difference in performance. The alternative is to produce a new Michael Phelps; the original won an unprecedented career total of 23 medals. Neither approach works if the athletes are starved.

Governments have sought to improve NHS performance over the years by telling us that each new wave of reorganisation is the administrative equivalent of a Phelps. Small service improvements do add up to an overall improvement in quality and value provided their introduction is properly funded.

They have to be tested. It is a major error to impose large-scale change without confirming that its principles are valid. The effects are costly in treasure and in patients’ lives and wellbeing. That, surely, is the lesson of the NHS over the past 30 years.

Competing interests: No competing interests

15 August 2016
S. Michael Crawford
Clinical Lead for Research
Airedale NHS Foundation Trust