NHS hospitals to employ safety experts to tackle thousands of avoidable mistakes

New nationwide effort is aiming to save 928 lives and £98.5m across the NHS

Shaun Lintern
Health Correspondent
Wednesday 25 December 2019 18:22 GMT
NHS England's patient safety strategy is aiming to better coordinate safety actions across the service
NHS England's patient safety strategy is aiming to better coordinate safety actions across the service (Getty)

Hospitals will be required to employ patient safety specialists from next April as part of efforts by the health service to reduce thousands of avoidable errors every year.

NHS trusts will be told to identify staff who will be designated as the safety specialist for each organisation.

These workers, who will get specific training and work as part of a network across the country, will help to tackle a fragmentation in the way safety issues are dealt with in the NHS and ensure nationwide action on key safety risks is coordinated.

The proposals are part of a national patient safety strategy which is aiming to save 928 lives and £98.5m across the NHS, as well as reducing negligence claims by £750m by 2025.

The specialists will be identified from existing staff, with part of the role focused on embedding a so-called “just culture” approach to safety. This means reducing blame, supporting staff who make honest errors and tackling systemic causes of mistakes.

The safety specialists will also be expected to bring a “human factors” approach to safety in the NHS. Human factors is a field of safety science used in other industries such as aviation industry, where human behaviour in certain situations is examined to try and engineer solutions that make it less likely people will make mistakes.

Hospitals are also being told to reform how they respond to national patient safety alerts, issued by national organisations after mistakes where a potential solution has been found.

Despite the system operating since 2001, the NHS sees more than 2 million incidents reported every year with more than 10,000 errors leading to severe harm and death to patients.

Many incidents are repeated despite previous warnings and recommendations of action.

Each of the new safety specialists will be expected to “coordinate and implement actions required” from safety alerts and to record when those actions have been completed.

Under the plans, out for consultation, NHS England said it “envisages the establishment of a network of patient safety specialists, one in each provider, to lead safety improvement across the system”.

It added: “We therefore propose to include a requirement on each provider to designate an existing staff member as its patient safety specialist.”

The NHS’s national director for patient safety, Aidan Fowler, has said he wants to be more “directive” over safety actions in the NHS and reduce the variability in how the system responds.

The changes are part of the NHS’s response to a report by the regulator, the Care Quality Commission (CQC), which examined why mistakes were not being prevented.

In a report last year, the CQC’s chief inspector of hospitals, Professor Ted Baker, said the NHS needed a culture change, adding: “Too many people are being injured or suffering unnecessary harm because NHS staff are not supported by sufficient training, and because the complexity of the current patient safety system makes it difficult for staff to ensure that safety is an integral part of everything they do.”

He added: “Staff know that what they do carries risk, but the culture in which they work is one that views itself as essentially safe, where errors are considered exceptional, and where rigid hierarchical structures make it hard for staff to speak up about potential safety issues or raise concerns.”

A spokesperson from the NHS told The Independent: “The NHS is committed to being a world leader in patient safety, and developing a specialist contact point in hospitals and mental health trusts should drive forward improvements and learning by knitting together local and national efforts to keep patients as safe as possible.”

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