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J Plast Reconstr Aesthet Surg. 2009 Jun;62(6):755-63. doi: 10.1016/j.bjps.2008.11.099. Epub 2009 Jan 31.

Plastic surgery and burns disasters. What impact do major civilian disasters have upon medicine? Bradford City Football Club stadium fire, 1985, King's Cross Underground fire, 1987, Piper Alpha offshore oil rig disaster, 1988.

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Imperial College London, Centre for the History of Science, Technology & Medicine, South Kensington, London, SW7 2AZ, UK.


Major disasters involving multiple casualties are neither new nor infrequent. Such events have important implications for medicine and can provide crucial lessons for the future. However, while the medical aspects of war have received considerable attention, rather less is known about civilian disasters. To redress this imbalance, this article reviews three major British disasters of the 1980s where serious burns injury was a significant feature of the human casualty: the Bradford City Football Club fire of 1985, the King's Cross Underground fire of 1987 and the Piper Alpha oil rig disaster of 1988. Four related themes are used to examine in detail the ways in which these events impacted on medicine: plastics and reconstructive surgery, clinical psychology, disaster management and long-term structural change. Drawing on articles in specialist burns and psychiatric journals, together with the personal communications and recollections of surgeons and psychiatrists involved, it is revealed that while ground-breaking advances are a relative rarity in medicine, numerous small but significant lessons did emerge from these events, although often in subtle and highly specialised fields of medicine.

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