OBJECTIVES: To investigate the impact of litigation on consultants and senior registrars and to establish their views on methods of reducing adverse events and litigation. DESIGN: Postal survey. SETTING: Acute hospitals in the North Thames (West) Regional Health Authority. SUBJECTS: 1011 consultants and senior registrars in acute hospitals. MAIN MEASURES: Perceived causes and effects of adverse events; views on methods of reducing litigation and adverse events. RESULTS: 769 (76%) doctors responded. 288 (37%) had been involved in litigation at some point during their career; 213 surgeons (49%) and 75 (23%) doctors in the medical specialties. Anger, distress, and feeling personally attacked were common responses to litigation. Clinicians' views on reducing litigation emphasised the need for change at the clinical level. Supervision of junior staff, workload, and training in communication skills were to the fore. CONCLUSIONS: The high frequency of doctors who have experienced litigation and the emotional responses described indicate that clinicians require support at several levels. At a personal level, support can be offered to clinicians going through the litigation process or after an adverse event. Also, managerial support is needed by offering financial and practical help in correcting the factors that have been consistently identified as producing high risk situations to minimise the possibility of a reoccurrence. Accidents in medicine are, by their very nature, costly in human and financial terms and the root causes must be tackled. Recommendations are made for clinicians and risk management teams.
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