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Is Aeroflot a safe airline?

October 4, 2011

Health reforms and patient safety

Four hundred public health doctors have just written an open letter opposing the NHS reforms. They say increased commercialisation and marketisation (sic) will fragment care, risk patient safety, erode trust, widen inequalities, and waste money.   They provide no evidence for their claims, which are all highly contested.   Other experts, many patients and doctors, and MPs of all parties, are convinced that the NHS is inefficient and wasteful, and would benefit from more competition.

Let’s take just one of the doctors’ claims – patient safety.  I work in a large NHS hospital where for many years the routine checks before surgery had been largely honoured in the breach. Surgeons frequently failed to engage with the process, which had degenerated into a tick box exercise performed by ancillary staff.  As a result there had been a number of wrong operations or operations on the wrong side.   It sounds terrible, but was not untypical of the NHS.

Then, as a result of the earlier Blair reforms, an independent Treatment Centre opened up next door and some of us were deputed to work in it.  We suddenly met a completely different culture. The Treatment Centre insisted that surgeons turn up on time, stopped delegating to deputies, and did the pre-op checks themselves.  We grumbled, but it was much safer, and the effect spread back to the main NHS hospital.  Gradually the checks are getting done properly there as well.

We should not be surprised.  The private sector is good at safety, safe food, safe airlines, safe toys for kids.  They have a lot to lose if they fail, so they take it seriously. The public sector frequently cuts corners, and covers up lapses.  Workers rarely lose their jobs if they break the rules, and slapdash practices persist.

And Aeroflot?   Between 1953 and it’s partial privatisation in 1994, state-owned Aeroflot had 126 accidents causing 6,875 deaths, an average of three accidents and 167 deaths per year.  In the 17 years since 1994, when it was registered as a joint stock company and the government sold off 49% of its stake, the airline has had only one fatal accident, Flight 821 which crashed at Perm in the Urals in Sept 2008, killing 88 passengers and crew. Click here for more.

The doctors may be experts in public health, but when it comes to patient safety they are just plain wrong.

Jim Thornton

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