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Jane Cummings: 'We need to deliver meaningful safety improvements for patients'


Patient safety is a priority for the health service, says Jane Cummings

Just after the publication of Don Berwick’s report on patient safety last summer, I read an interesting Twitter exchange on the Berwick report that struck a chord with me.

The first tweeter made the pithy observation that Professor Berwick had said nothing new and that his report was just “lots of motherhood and apple pie with few tangible actions”.

The second tweeter replied: “Motherhood = nurture. Apple pie = sustenance”.

“I am always impressed by the commitment and courage of NHS staff, often in the face of what must seem like relentless criticism and pressure”

It’s amazing what you can say with fewer than 140 characters. Professor Berwick’s report was about supporting NHS staff to do what they want to do - provide safe, effective care with needs of patients at the centre - by making the NHS a system devoted to continual learning and improvement. In NHS England, Mike Durkin and his team are doing their part to support you all to make that a reality. And there is lots of support from different areas of the service.

Health secretary Jeremy Hunt recently launched the Sign up to Safety campaign, which asks trusts to commit to halving avoidable harm and thereby saving thousands more lives over the next three years. Yes, we know safety is hard to measure and there will be arguments over whether we will know if the aim is achieved, but the principle is right - the whole system signed up to improvement, as Professor Berwick said.

This campaign is intended to be a rallying call that can encompass initiatives in place nationally and locally. Nationally, we’ve relaunched the patient safety alerting system, which is now far more responsive in alerting the NHS to emerging risks. We are developing a suite of “next generation” safety thermometers to support local safety improvement efforts.

Perhaps most ambitiously, we will shortly be launching the Patient Safety Collaborative Programme. This will create a nationwide network of 15 collaborative improvement systems that will work across all sectors and services. We’ve seen collaborative improvement work well in pockets - be that the Advancing Quality Alliance in the North West or in Safer Care North East. Now we need to do this everywhere, all the time, to deliver meaningful safety improvement for all our patients.
Mr Hunt has set us a challenge to not only make safety information available but also to make it accessible in one place for all hospitals, so patients can easily find it. We are working with NHS Choices to increase the range and clarity of the patient safety data on its website - whether that be from our world-leading National Reporting and Learning System, staff and patient surveys, NHS Safety Thermometer, infection data or our new work to generate detailed information on staffing levels. The NHS is leading the way for the world on this.

Initiatives are springing up to improve safety. Nursing Times’ Speak Out Safely initiative has successfully campaigned for a statutory duty of candour to be introduced. The Patient Safety Congress’ Small Changes Saves Lives campaign promotes the idea that small changes can have a great impact on care; this involves frontline staff, particularly junior doctors and students.

I am always impressed by the commitment and courage of NHS staff, often in the face of what must seem like relentless criticism and pressure. It is beholden on all of us to repay that commitment with the support and nurture - motherhood and apple pie - that Professor Berwick recommended, so that we deliver the safest healthcare system in the world.

Jane Cummings is speaking at the Patient Safety Congress on 21 May. The event runs from 21 to 22 May at the BT Convention Centre in Liverpool. See

Jane Cummings is chief nursing officer at NHS England


Readers' comments (3)

  • michael stone

    'by making the NHS a system devoted to continual learning and improvement.'

    Before the NHS can properly learn, it needs to properly listen - which it all-too-often fails to do. The NHS seems to concentrate on 'auditing itself' rather than on actually improving itself.

    And as for 'the duty of candour', from what I remember (and I might be remembering wrongly) the proposal was for that to be only for 'organisations' and only to cover instances of 'serious mistakes' - I'm not sure that is adequate, in itself.

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  • Bla, Bla, Bla .

    Why does this woman not address the REAL issues such as staffing levels and skill mix ?

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  • I would just like to see the CNO's job description which should be public knowledge but is nowhere to be found on the Internet or supplied by the DH/ when I wrote and enquired they directed me back to the same link from which I had made my enquiry as it was not available there! Left hand doesn't seem to know what the right is doing in this organisation!

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