How NHS can copy F1 in slashing death rate

Formula 1 has become a much safer sport in the years since Ayrton Senna's death. Photograph: AFP/Getty Images
Formula 1 has become a much safer sport in the years since Ayrton Senna's death. Photograph: AFP/Getty Images
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YEARS spent in the fast lane might have instilled in Mark Gallagher a need for speed regardless of the risks.

However, the ex-Formula 1 boss will tell an NHS conference in Edinburgh this week that the high-octane sport of motor racing could teach 
the Scottish health service a thing or two about patient safety.

Northern Ireland-born Gallagher, who has worked with teams including Red Bull and Jordan, will address more than 750 delegates on how the sport has slashed its death rate in the last 20 years.

He told Scotland on Sunday: “It’s a great idea to share some insights into how a very different looking area such as F1 can put safety concerns into what it does in the same way the amazing people who work for the NHS do.

“It is interesting that in the 1950s to 1980s it was kind of accepted that it was part of the sport that people were getting hurt or killed doing it.”

However, the death of Brazilian driver Ayrton Senna during the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix changed attitudes within the profession and F1 underwent a radical overhaul in an effort to put safety at the heart of its work.

Gallagher, who now works for Formula 2 and Formula 3, said: “There was a real step-change in culture after Senna’s death and that was down to the leadership.

“But it is also down to every single mechanical engineer, driver, everyone, to put safety at the centre of everything they do.

“We started seeing a difference, as while we still have accidents – we will always have accidents due to the nature of the sport – we haven’t been having the fatalities.”

It is important to learn from the past, but being prepared for what is about to happen is the most useful thing, said Gallagher: “My real advice would be to look forward and anticipate what is going to happen.

“Look forward and be prepared, as nine times out of ten things are happening which we have huge amounts of knowledge about.

“I hate the phrase ‘freak accident’ as often there is nothing freaky about it.

“We know everyone makes mistakes, we know the situations that present. It’s the same with the NHS.”

Gallagher – who has worked with Scots former F1 driver David Coulthard, now a BBC commentator, since 2012 – said that making sure every person in the organisation has a voice was a crucial part of their ­success.

He said: “When you have 22 people doing a pit stop in three seconds then you are only as fast as your slowest cog. It’s the same when you are looking at patient safety – everyone on the ward will have the opportunity to influence the outcome for the patient.

“We have to make sure we had the right kind of framework so any member of staff can, at any moment, put up their hand and say, ‘There’s something not right here.’

“In F1 if you have a frustrating problem and people see you aren’t doing anything about it, then that damages morale.”

Gallagher will deliver the keynote speech at the Scottish Patient Safety Programme conference at the Edinburgh International Conference Centre tomorrow.