'Killing season' does exist, say doctors

  • Date: 25 August 2011

THE majority of doctors believe patient safety is put at risk when junior doctors start work in August, according to a new survey.

A massive 90 per cent of doctors said the changeover - which has been referred to as 'killing season' - had a negative impact on patient safety. The figures come in a study from the Society of Acute Medicine and the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh.

The report authors have called on the UK and Scottish governments to urgently examine the system.

An estimated 50,000 UK doctors change posts on the first Wednesday in August – the same day trainees start their new jobs. The RCPE said evidence in recent years had also suggested there may be a higher early death rate for patients admitted at this time than at other times.

Almost 750 doctors across the UK responded to the survey which was published in the journal Clinical Medicine. The main findings were that 93 per cent believed the August changeover had a negative impact on patient care, 90 per cent believed the changeover had a negative impact on patient safety and 58 per cent believed the changeover had a negative impact on doctors’ training.

The effects of the changeover on care and training were perceived to last for up to one month. One doctor said: “August is always a nightmare.” Many doctors suggested an alternative system of staggering the transition over a period of a month.

Dr Louella Vaughan, honorary consultant physician in acute medicine, and lead author of the study, said: "The results of this survey add to the emerging evidence base which indicates that the current August changeover system increases a number of risks for patients, including an increased early death rate for patients admitted to hospital at this time."

But a Scottish Government spokeswoman told Press Association that they have “absolutely no evidence” to link the national training changeover of doctors in August to any increased risks to patient safety in NHS Scotland.

She said: “The national training changeover of doctors is an established feature of the national postgraduate medical training curriculum, and boards have systems in place to ensure the maintenance of high quality care at the changeovers for doctors in training.” But she added that the government would “consider the findings of the study.”

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