Background and objective: Anaesthetists are at increased risk of successful prosecution for manslaughter (nonculpable homicide) compared with other clinicians.
Methods: This questionnaire study assessed the attitudes of 109 British trainee anaesthetists (response rate 87%) to medical error, patient safety and the law relating to anaesthesia.
Results: Fifty-seven per cent had made an error that caused harm to patient. When asked to consider the worst error that they had made, 81% of 86 respondents had reported the error, but only 31% of reports were investigated further; 68% had informed the patient of their error. Medication (47%) and procedural errors (37%) were commonest. 'Best practice' guidance was followed in only 38% of instances. Media exposure (92%) was considered the likeliest reason for the increase in manslaughter prosecutions. Knowledge of the law relevant to anaesthesia was poor. Trainees had received limited training in decreasing their exposure to the legal process.
Conclusion: In order to reduce their legal liability and improve patient safety, junior anaesthetists must practise according to professional guidelines and seek professional training in medicolegal matters.