August change-over "puts patients at risk"

  • Date: 28 June 2012


A SENIOR NHS executive has admitted that the August change-over – when junior doctors start their new jobs – puts patients at risk.

NHS medical director Sir Bruce Keogh has admitted publicly, for what is believed to be the first time, that the so-called "killing season" does exist and that measures are being put in place to tackle the problem.

Research has suggested that death rates increase by as much as eight per cent at the start of August when trainees take on their new roles and repeated calls have been made to address the problem.

One of the main measures being introduced includes four days of paid work shadowing for juniors. Sir Bruce said he expects 7,000 trainees to shadow senior colleagues voluntarily next month before starting their posts in August. From next year the work shadowing will be compulsory for all foundation year doctors.

Sir Bruce said he hopes the scheme will halve the number of errors. He said: "The intention is to end the so-called killing season. This is good news for patients – we recognise the change-over period in August puts patients at risk.

"Junior doctors are under stress as they change from being a student to a professional and they need help to adapt to a working environment when they’ve never done a job before."

The scheme follows a successful pilot in Bristol where the number of mistakes made by juniors halved in their first four months. The number of patients left permanently damaged by their errors also fell from five cases to just one.

The shadowing scheme has been broadly welcomed. Joyce Robins of Patient Concern said: "This is an excellent idea and will be of great relief to patients."

Junior doctors change jobs every six months, in August and February, and Sir Bruce accepted that the new scheme would tackle only part of the problem, adding: "We will audit the shadowing and see how different trusts manage it and their results."

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