Fine balance between pragmatism and rigidness in system approaches to acute care

Sarah Cotterill, Calvin Heal, Roland Damian, Rowland Andrew, Tony Long

Research output: Contribution to journalLetterpeer-review


Reluctance of the Royal College of General Practitioners to endorse NEWS2 (the second iteration of the national early warning score) has surprised some and been supported by others.1 This dichotomy over what seems to be a proved safety measure shows the fine balance between pragmatism and rigidness in system approaches to acute care.

The predictive value of NEWS2 is well evidenced,2 and acting on a high score might prevent excess mortality, leading to calls for it to be used in primary care. The college’s concern about the unintended consequences of patients not being rapidly transferred to hospital because they have a low NEWS2 is genuine but must be balanced against the tangible communication advantages of alerting ambulance services to a patient with a high NEWS2.

There is currently no national paediatric equivalent of NEWS2. Paediatric early warning scores that have been investigated outside of wards have not shown benefit3; bespoke emergency department systems add more value.45 Enforcing an inpatient derived system for children in primary care as the next step would be unreasonable and illogical.

The effect of these systems must be investigated, as children are still dying of reversible pathologies, and there is little standardisation of practice. Opportunities for such studies exist, as large datasets (more than 30 000 patients) exploring the physiological characteristics of patients presenting to urgent and emergency care departments will shortly be available.6

How primary care scoring tools will be used must be determined before they are implemented. The pragmatic approach of aiding communication and standardisation will need to be balanced against using a tool that simply isn’t valid to detect the range of potential pathologies seen in both adults and children in primary care.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages1
JournalBritish Medical Journal
Issue numberI6226
Publication statusPublished - 31 Oct 2019


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