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Br J Nurs. 2003 Aug 14-Sep 10;12(15):919-24.

The current approach to human error and blame in the NHS.

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Royal Sussex County Hospital.


There is a large body of research to suggest that serious errors are widespread throughout medicine. The traditional response to these adverse events has been to adopt a 'person approach' - blaming the individual seen as 'responsible'. The culture of medicine is highly complicit in this response. Such an approach results in enormous personal costs to the individuals concerned and does little to address the root causes of errors and thus prevent their recurrence. Other industries, such as aviation, where safety is a paramount concern and which have similar structures to the medical profession, have, over the past decade or so, adopted a 'systems' approach to error, recognizing that human error is ubiquitous and inevitable and that systems need to be developed with this in mind. This approach has been highly successful, but has necessitated, first and foremost, a cultural shift. It is in the best interests of patients, and medical professionals alike, that such a shift is embraced in the NHS.

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