The likes of Richard Branson complain that hospitals get it wrong when pilots don't. There is nothing new about this. Pilots have check lists. It is widely believed that doctors and nurses should do the same. And it is happening. Protocols and tick boxes abound.
But pilots get it wrong too. Dr Grumble has sat on committees which have investigated certain aspects of safety in the air. He became closely involved with one particular accident when lives were lost. The pilot made mistakes. More than one. The aircraft should never have taken off because it was outside limits. But that had nothing to do with the accident. People make mistakes quite often. It does not always matter too much. Pilots make mistakes just as doctors do.
When Dr Grumble heard that the aeroplane which has recently ditched in the Hudson had some special button to press to stop the water coming in he commented to Mrs Grumble that he would be surprised if the pilot had remembered to press it. It might have been on some check list somewhere but did they have the ditching check list readily to hand?
Acute medicine is more like ditching than a normal landing. There are a lot of uncertainties. The right decision to make is often not obvious. And decisions may need to be made quickly. The right check list for each set of complex circumstances you may encounter does not exist and even if it did it would not be realistic to consult it in the time available. That's the reality.
Now when the aeroplane ditched in the Hudson, despite the circumstances, the first officer would dutifully have gone through a three page check list to ensure everything was in order for landing. There wouldn't have been much time to go through this check list and he would have had more important things to consider like trying to restart an engine or, preferably, two engines. It might not even have been the ditching check list. That's the trouble with check lists. You need the right one for the circumstances. In medicine that is not always realistic.
Just think how mad you would feel if you were the plane's designer. You fit a wonderful button to turn the aeroplane into a boat and the pilots forget to press the wretched thing. But it was predictable. Dr Grumble predicted it. Fortunately no harm came from this omission. But it might have been otherwise.