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Observations BMJ Confidential

Peter Fleming: Instigator of “Back to Sleep”

BMJ 2016; 355 doi: (Published 26 October 2016) Cite this as: BMJ 2016;355:i5724


Peter Fleming’s research into sudden infant death has saved thousands of lives by simply putting babies to sleep on their backs. Now professor of infant health and developmental physiology at Bristol University, in the late 1980s he led a pioneering study that sharply reduced these deaths by altering the sleeping position. In 1989 more than 1500 such deaths were recorded; today’s figure is around 200 a year, and most cases are now linked to mothers who smoke. Having grown up in Medway in the 1950s as the son of a naval dockyard worker, Fleming spent many hours talking to bereaved families to gather data, and he retains a strong commitment to improving care of vulnerable people and supporting bereaved parents. Fleming is 67.

What was your earliest ambition?

To be a doctor—though what little understanding I had came largely from watching Dr Finlay and Dr Kildare.

Who has been your biggest inspiration?

Charlie Bryan in Toronto, who taught me that understanding physiology (a subject I loathed at medical school) was the best way to understand what I was doing to patients and what …

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