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6 Law Innovation & Tech. 1 (2014)

handle is hein.journals/linovte6 and id is 1 raw text is: DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.5235/17579961.6.1.1

Regulating Patient Safety: Is it Time
for a Technological Response?
Roger Brownsword'
Hospitals, we know, are dangerous places; even when organisational stresses are low and
correct procedures are observed, the safety of patients cannot be taken for granted. As
stresses increase-for example, when critical information, equipment and supplies fail
to be in the right place at the right time, when key personnel (from surgeons and anaes-
thetists through to nursing staff and porters) are unavailable, and so on-the risks to
patients rise. Furthermore, in a stressed medical environment, best practice procedures
are less likely to be observed, again increasing the risks faced by patients.2 However, no
one-not even seasoned observers of the actualities of hospital practice-can think that
the regulatory environment for patient safety is fit for purpose when, following the pub-
lication of the report of the public inquiry into the Mid-Staffordshire NHS Foundation
Trust (centring on the deaths of patients at Stafford Hospital), the banner headline on
the front page of The Times bluntly warns: 'NHS: No one is safe.
Robert Francis QC, introducing the report, paints a shocking picture of the suffering
of hundreds of patients whose safety was ignored for the sake of corporate self-interest
and cost control:
Professor of Law, King's College London. This paper is a revised version of a keynote lecture given at the
Fourth European Conference on Health Law, Coimbra, 9-11 October 2013, and a Faculty lecture given
at the University of Hong Kong, 24 February 2014. I am grateful to participants for a range of perceptive
responses. Needless to say, the usual disclaimers apply. All websites last accessed 14 February 2014 except
where stated otherwise.
1 See eg Mary Dixon-Woods, 'Why is Patient Safety So Hard? A Selective Review of Ethnographic Studies'
(2010) 15 Journal of Health Services Research and Policy 11. The examples in the text are from Dixon-
2  Ibid, 13. Dixon-Woods gives the following examples: 'Equipment not being prepared, checked or in the
right place; failing to undertake blood loss analysis; not managing perfusion correctly; not wearing masks
or eye protection during operations; not maintaining proper standards of hygiene; omitting key surgical
steps; starting procedures without everyone in the team being aware or ready, and without all the equip-
ment and supplies being checked and in place; not reading back during instrumentation checking; not
completing swab checks; and violating aseptic procedures!
3  The Times, 7 February 2013.

(2014) 6(1) LIT 1-29

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