LETTER : Risk assessment by league tables

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The Independent Online
From Dr Peter Stow

Sir: As an anaesthetist, the assessment of risk to health is part of my everyday life. Similarly, every insurance premium that individuals pay is based on the likelihood of a particular event. Yet, as a society, risk assessment is something that receives scant regard. Your article "Nose pickers steer path to danger" (19 December) highlights the absurd risks that we are prepared to accept in the course of everyday activity. Part of my reassurance to patients anxious about the outcome of their impending anaesthetic is to explain that the most dangerous part of their day is likely to have been their car journey to hospital.

Yet we seem to accept these risks with little concern. Cigarette smoking kills hundreds of thousands per year, but receives little of the coverage attached to BSE. Frightening though Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease may be, it accounts for a mere 40-50 deaths per year.

We are becoming increasingly used to league tables. Is it not time that a responsible media started to publish weekly tables of lifestyle-associated risk in order that individuals and society may focus efforts more meaningfully? Driving, smoking and lack of exercise at the top, attack from meteorites at the bottom.

Yours faithfully

Peter Stow


20 December