by GK Strategy 23rd April, 2019
5 min read

How to support improved patient safety within the NHS

The NHS’s Long-term plan set out the aspiration to become the safest health service worldwide and more transparent in its operations across physical and mental health.

With approximately one million patients being treated every 36 hours, it is essential that the NHS’ systems, skills and culture are tailored and optimised to ensure the prospect of error is minimised.

To put the situation into perspective, recent studies suggest that 237 million medication errors occur in the NHS every year with 66 million having the potential to cause moderate or severe harm – and this is just errors attributed to medication.

So where do they begin fixing the problems?

NHS England are taking positive steps to improve their performance on patient safety – most visibly through the development of a patient safety strategy. Draft proposals have been widely consulted on and the publication of findings is expected imminently.

The initial proposals set out by the NHS’ National Director for Patient Safety, Dr Aidan Fowler speak of a multi-stakeholder approach with an emphasis on: drawing greater insights from patient safety data; better training and culture to upskill and empower staff; and pilot schemes seeking to reduce by 50% incidents in key priority areas such as sepsis and bed ulcers.


With these ambitious proposals, the NHS recognises that a more collaborative approach is required to develop and then implement the strategy. Therefore academia, patient organisations and the private sector need to be considering where they can add value and at what stage of the process.

For instance, the ‘insights’ strand of work offers great potential for improvement and collaboration with a commitment to harnessing new technologies and techniques to gather and utilise patient safety information.

As part of the ‘insights’ process, a new Patient Safety Incident Management System (PSIMS) is in development. The ambition is that the new system will provide more accessible data that is better integrated into other systems. Importantly, it will also go beyond the ‘reporting’ function of the existing National Reporting Learning System and will seek to improve learning as to the reason why negative outcomes occur. The private sector will be interested in how this analysis is shared and how they can offer solutions.

For healthtech manufacturers specifically there are clear opportunities to assist patient safety improvement through ‘live’ decision support – technology which provides the clinician with a better picture of how to treat a patient. Unlike in other countries, the NHS has recommended safety standards for digital health which can support the private sector to offer solutions.

PSIMS will also offer a better analysis and reporting of potential threats to patient safety which can be taken forward by National Patient Safety Alerts Committee (NaPSAC). NaPSAC will be expanding their remit moving forward and are at the forefront of spotting the issues that can cause a significant threat to patients – be it condition, treatment or behaviour. Industry and patient groups should be seeking to engage with the Committee as it transforms into a cross-system safety committee with wider functions.

Navigating the system

External organisations should engage on the reform of NaPSAC as well as providing advice and information to support its existing functions. For instance, patient groups and industry can share the evidence which can lead to a Patient Safety Alert (PSA) for a lesser known condition or complication such as the impact of raised potassium levels on heart failure or the ramifications of a certain device used in surgery. The job is not done once an alert is announced though, and third parties should consider how they conduct their own research i.e. through Freedom of information requests to trusts – to ascertain which are complying with a PSA. Findings can be fed back to the CQC who hold responsibility for monitoring compliance.

The ‘infrastructure’ strand of the patient safety strategy relates to skills and culture within the NHS and should be integrated with the soon-to-be-published NHS Workforce Strategy. Proposals to create a patient safety curriculum, appoint senior patient safety specialists and provide a greater role for patient advocacy should all be welcomed. Again, the NHS should be looking to third parties to advise them to do achieve these aims and there are obvious opportunities for educational providers and culture change specialists.

Once the strategy is published it will be crucial to ascertain how the NHS will seek to implement the intentions outlined in their proposals. Of particular interest will be gauging the appetite of the NHS to work with outside stakeholders to achieve their objectives and to what extent they are willing to fund this.

GK Strategy are specialists at engaging the NHS on a range of issues. Please get in contact if you would like to discuss how your organisation will be responding to the patient safety or workforce strategy

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