Hospital medical staffing: achieving a balance proposed a reduction in the number of junior doctors and an expansion in the number of consultant posts. This change was to be subject to the 'safety net'--that the number of staff should not fall below a minimum safe level for 24-hour emergency cover. However, no operational definition of 'safe' was offered. Consultant physicians in one NHS region were interviewed to find out how they thought safety would be affected by a reduction in junior doctor numbers. It emerged that consultants' concerns over reductions in staff covered a wider range of issues than just the clinical effectiveness of care. The interpretation of safety extended to cover general adverse effects on care. A survey, using the Delphi method, revealed that consultant physicians were most concerned over reductions in the humanity of care if numbers of junior staff were reduced. This included such factors as the time spent by patients waiting in outpatient and A&E departments, and the time doctors spend talking to patients. Consultants were less concerned over the effect of reduced staff numbers on the technical efficiency of provision, and least of all on the effectiveness of care. This last point was seen to be a reflection of consultant physicians' confidence in the basic medical knowledge and skill of their junior staff.