Bristol, Shipman, and clinical governance: Shewhart's forgotten lessons

Lancet. 2001 Feb 10;357(9254):463-7. doi: 10.1016/s0140-6736(00)04019-8.


During the past century, manufacturing industry has achieved great success in improving the quality of its products. An essential factor in this success has been the use of Walter A Shewhart's pioneering work in the economic control of variation, which culminated in the development of a simple yet powerful graphical method known as the control chart. This chart classifies variation as having a common cause or special cause and thus guides the user to the most appropriate action to effect improvement. Using six case studies, including the excess deaths after paediatric cardiac surgery seen in Bristol, UK, and the activities of general practitioner turned murderer Harold Shipman, we show a central role for Shewhart's approach in turning the rhetoric of clinical governance into a reality.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Analysis of Variance*
  • Cause of Death
  • Data Interpretation, Statistical
  • England
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Male
  • Mortality*
  • Pregnancy
  • Quality Assurance, Health Care / statistics & numerical data*