While I was a medical student, I saw a young guy with a bad knee. After the patient left, the consultant explained that the surgeon who had carried out the operation had got it badly wrong, and this was the cause of the patient's disability. He would never walk properly again. I asked the consultant why no one had informed the patient. He answered that you don't blow the whistle on colleagues and they don't on you. [...]
I was part of a chain of errors that led to the death of a patient [...] and I confessed it to my consultant. I was overcome with remorse. I wanted to apologise to the relatives and stand up at the inquest and say it was all my fault and I deserved to be struck off. He counselled me to brazen it out. Another colleague helped me buff the notes (to "buff the notes" is to make entries in the patient's records which don't actually lie but contain only the helpful elements of the truth).— 'We all kill a few patients as we learn', Jed Mercurio, The Guardian, 18 May 2004
Someone linked to this on the Bad Science blog. Quite terrifying, in a way. But it's hard to see what can be done; people simply refuse to accept that mistakes do happen in hospitals, and when they do, it's not always appropriate for heads to roll.