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UK government launches ‘Sign up to Safety’ initiative

Published on 26/03/14 at 09:47am
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A new ambition to reduce avoidable harm in the NHS by half over the next three years, cut costs and save up to 6,000 lives has been outlined by the health secretary Jeremy Hunt.

In a speech at Virginia Mason Hospital in the US city of Seattle, the secretary of state for health announced details of how NHS organisations can work together to improve patient safety and save money.

Each NHS organisation will be invited to ‘Sign up to Safety’ and set out publicly their plans for reducing avoidable harm, such as medication errors, blood clots and bed sores over the next three years.

The NHS Litigation Authority which covers trusts against law suits, has agreed to review the plans and, when approved, reduce the premiums paid by all hospitals successfully implementing them.

Money is a clearly a concern for the government as every year the NHS spends as much as £1.3 billion on law suits, so now in an effort to reduce this it will be introducing a ‘Duty of Candour’, ensuring that openness and honesty become the norm across all health and social care organisations.

In practical terms this will mean providers must notify the patient about incidents where ‘significant harm’ has occurred and provide an apology. This comes after the latest in a long line of reports into the Mid Staffs scandal, published in February last year, made such recommendations.

Data showed that there were between 400 and 1,200 more deaths than would have been expected between 2005 and 2008 at the Staffordshire hospital, all of which came as a result of negligence and poor care.

The Francis Report into these deaths made 290 recommendations to help stop this from happening again, which included the introduction of a Duty of Candour, as well as criminalising those who are wilfully negligent in their duties to patients.

Hunt says: “It is my clear ambition that the NHS should become the safest healthcare system anywhere in the world. I want the tragic events of Mid Staffs to become a turning point in the creation of a more open, compassionate and transparent culture within the NHS.

“We now have a once in a generation opportunity to save lives and prevent avoidable harm - which will empower staff and save money that can be re-invested in patient care. Hospitals are already ‘signing up to safety’ as part of this new movement - and I hope all NHS organisations will soon join them.”

Pledging for better safety

Hospitals are now being approached to pledge their support to the movement and all trusts will receive an invitation to join over the next few months.

Other plans to improve patient safety as part of the package include: consulting on the threshold for duty of candour to include significant harm, as part of the Care Quality Commission’s (CQC) registration requirements (as recommended by the Dalton-Williams review):

  • Recruiting 5,000 safety champions as local change agents, identifying where there is unsafe care and developing solutions to fix it
  • Creating a new Safety Action for England (SAFE) team that will consist of senior clinicians, managers and patients with a proven track record in tackling unsafe care. They will ensure that fast, flexible and intensive support is available where it is needed most
  • Launching a dedicated section of the NHS Choices website in June called ‘How Safe is my Hospital’. The online tool will give everyone the ability to compare hospitals in England across a range of patient safety indicators
  • Developing new reliable measures of avoidable hospital death rates and severe harm.

In a statement the Department of Health says that a strong reporting culture, where safety incidents are reported and monitored is ‘essential to improving safety’.

It believes that the measures announced today are likely to lead to an increase in the numbers of reported harm in the NHS, even though care will in fact be getting safer. 

NHS England will lead a project to accurately assess whether a hospital is reporting fewer, more or an expected number of incidents.

Ben Adams 

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