A NASA scientist who was involved in the inquiry into the Columbia Space Shuttle accident 14 years ago has spoken to 120 health and care staff in a bid to improve safety in the Scottish NHS.

Seven astronauts died when the space craft disintegrated on re-entry in 2003 after a piece of foam had broken off on take-off.

Dr Nigel Packham is manager of the space agency’s flight safety office at Johnson Space Centre in Houston, Texas, and had overall control of the subsequent inquiry into the second fatal accident in the shuttle’s history.

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He told an audience, including Scotland’s chief medical officer Dr Catherine Calderwood, about how skills learned in the space programme – such as how to prevent the loss of muscle mass – can also be put to use in the care of frail and elderly patients.

It follows claims that running the NHS is as complicated as putting a man in space.

Speaking at the Glasgow Science Centre, he said: “The risks we face in human spaceflight are surprisingly similar to the ones you are looking at when you are dealing with patient safety.

“Medics deciding whether or not to perform a procedure on an elderly patient need to weigh up the benefit against the risk. In Nasa we are doing the same thing. The risks may be greater but determining how much is acceptable is much the same.”