Mastering Intensive Care 021 with Martin Bromiley

Martin Bromiley – Turning tragedy into safer healthcare with attention to human factors

Are we truly making healthcare safer? Do we adequately understand human factors in how we work in hospitals? How would you respond if your partner died from a “routine operation”? Andrew Davies talks with Martin Bromiley – ‘Turning tragedy into safer healthcare with attention to human factors



These are just 3 of the questions you are likely to ponder as you listen to this interview with Martin Bromiley OBE from the United Kingdom on the Mastering Intensive Care podcast.

Whilst many people that we care for in our Intensive Care Units receive excellent care, sadly there are some who end up in our ICUs after something goes unexpectedly wrong during a routine operation. Tragically some of these people die. Not due to anything they did, but from medical error.

In the final DasSMACC special episode, I speak to Martin Bromiley, who became a widower when his wife, Elaine, died in such circumstances 12 years ago. In what has been described as “the direct result of human factors and failings in non-technical skills, created by systemic failings in the healthcare system”. Martin didn’t blame, shame or complain. He did his best to move forward by researching the culture in healthcare around safety and human factors. And he recognised that although there were pockets of excellence the UK’s National Health Service was culturally a long way behind most other high risk industries. As a result of his experiences Martin supported the making of a DVD entitled “Just a routine operation” which explored the lessons of his late wife’s death, as well as a BBC Horizon programme about human factors called “How to avoid mistakes in surgery”.

Professionally Martin works in aviation where he is a pilot for a major UK airline and where he has a background specialising in human factors. Therefore, Martin founded the Clinical Human Factors Group, a non profit making charitable trust which aims to advise and promote best practice around human factors. Since then the Group has promoted human factors at the highest levels in healthcare, making a significant contribution to current thinking. More significantly though, the terms human factors and system safety are becoming much more commonly understood in healthcare, much of which is due to Martin’s efforts and leadership. His work has been recognised through awards from the Royal College of Anaesthetists, the Difficult Airway Society, and the patient support group “Action Against Medical Accidents”. In the 2016 New Year Honours list Martin was awarded an OBE for his work to further patient safety.

Martin was a speaker at the DasSMACC conference in Berlin back in June, and after delivering an enthralling talk entitled “How To Fail” (which you should listen to when it is released as a SMACC podcast) we went to a quiet room to record an interview. We had an important conversation and touched on:

  • The tragic case of Elaine and her death after a routine operation
  • How Martin dealt with it
  • What support Martin received in and out of the hospital
  • What Martin has been doing to try to improve safety in healthcare
  • What healthcare can and cannot learn from the aviation industry
  • His 3 key messages about human factors
  • How he uses mental rehearsal to be the best airline pilot he can be ​

Show notes


With this podcast, and the previous episodes, please help me in my quest to improve patient care, in ICUs all round the world, by inspiring all of us to bring our best selves to work to more masterfully interact with our patients, their families, ourselves and our fellow healthcare professionals so that we can achieve the most satisfactory outcomes for all. It would be much appreciated if you could help to spread the word by simply emailing your colleagues or posting on social media.

If you wish to send a comment or respond to something Brian said on this episode, feel free to email me andrewATmasteringintensivecare.com, leave a comment on the Mastering Intensive Care podcast page on LITFL or on Facebook, or post on twitter using #masteringintensivecare.

Please also consider making a donation to the Clinical Human Factors Group at http://chfg.org/get-involved/please-donate/

Please take the very best care of your patients, their families, and your colleagues. And above all, consider that taking care of yourself might actually be the best thing you can do for your patients.


Further reading and listening


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Posted by Andrew Davies

Dr Andrew Davies. MBBS FRACP FCIC. Intensivist/researcher at Frankston Hospital, Melbourne. Aiming to bring my best self to work & life. Twitter | Mastering Intensive Care | New Normal Project |

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