Thursday, 13 March 2014

Blondes, pilots and doctors. Who should learn from whom?

Blondes, pilots and doctors – who should learn from whom?

The Malaysian Airlines plane disappearance remains a very sad mystery. Our hearts go out to the missing persons and their families/friends, it must be unbearable agony.

Now we hear in the papers that young blonde girls were entertained in the cockpit in 2011 by one of the pilots of missing plane.

I am not taking any moral stand here, pilots or anyone are welcome to entertain blonde girls or any other type of women or men anywhere. My problem arises when these pilots put passenger safety at risk by such acts.

I heard this news on the morning of 12 March 2014 on my way to the CHFG conference in Birmingham. I would have normally laughed out loud, then stay angered for a while and then move on. But there was something else bothering in my mind. Then at the conference, as in any healthcare conference these days, I heard a number of people repeating what has now become a cliché that healthcare should learn from pilots and airlines. What was bothering me then surfaced to provoke me into writing this blog.

If you thought for a minute that this cockpit privilege is dished out only in Malaysia or in some other distant country, you are probably mistaken and it may be time to change your mind.

A few weeks ago a colleague who is a senior doctor with additional responsibilities in the UK told me about travelling in the cockpit of a major airline on a scheduled short haul international flight in Europe. It was obviously very thrilling for the colleague but as a safety enthusiast it was disturbing me. As a senior doctor it might have been appropriate to decline the offer on the grounds of ensuring safety; that is another debate. If that colleague lied to show off etc that is a personal probity issue.

Then the colleague said that this privilege was also offered to another family member a couple of months earlier, who took a flight in the same sector for stag or a hen night. This is even more unsettling since it seems such behaviour by pilots are not one off or localised but probably frequent and international. Update: Since this blog was originally published about 48 hours ago, I have had a very senior doctor now retired telling me that he sat in the cockpit while flying over the Alps on the way to Italy. Goes to show that it is not only localised and frequent, it is also chronic poor behaviour by pilots.

I think the constant bu*****t about healthcare learning from pilots has to stop. This blog has argued for healthcare to learn from all sorts of good sources. I have previously written about animal air transport. I have written on the pilot error rates not falling since 1950s and the very large variation seen in the 'ultra-safe' airline industry. I still believe that healthcare needs to learn from everyone including airlines. But it should not be one-way traffic. Perhaps pilots can learn from doctors who will not pick out anyone from a waiting room on the basis of hair colour or allow 'friends' to join them in operating theatres as a thrill of the day.

We should not also make the error of mistakenly attributing the improvements allowed by technology as advances in human behaviours and interactions.


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Scheduled airlines are safe – just like out patient clinics

Healthcare is not similar to aviation but lessons can be learned

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