The difference between handovers and huddles in maternity units is set out in new guidance, which highlights the benefits of effective clinical handovers and the role of huddles in promoting safety.
The new NHS Improvement framework provides a structure for units to create and develop their own approach to effectively communicating clinical data and transferring key safety information.
“It is a good opportunity to make all team members aware of any safety issues”
It is intended as a “good practice guide” for healthcare professionals involved in the care of pregnant women and their infants, said the government arms’-length body.
However, it recognises that each unit will have its “own culture and ways of working”, noted the document from NHS Improvement, which is called Implementing handovers and huddles – a framework for practice in maternity units.
The guidance stated that the terms “huddle” and “clinical handover” were sometimes used interchangeably but highlighted that they had “similarities and differences”.
The NHS Improvement document said that handovers were “distinct from huddles both in terms of purpose and information shared”.
It said the National Patient Safety Agency defined handovers as involving a “transfer of professional responsibility and accountability for some or all aspects of care for a patient, or a group of patients, to another professional or professional group on a temporary or permanent basis”.
“The most important point of handovers is the efficient transfer of clinical information during transfer of clinical responsibility,” said the guidance.
It said that effective handovers should include a succinct overview of current inpatients as well as patients expected from triage or home or transfers from other units.
It noted that handovers often start with a brief huddle highlighting operational issues. “Though this is not a clinical handover’s main purpose, it is a good opportunity to make all team members aware of any safety issues,” it said.
In contrast, the guidance defined huddles in healthcare as “short briefings where team leaders come together to share clinical information, review events and plan for the day ahead across disciplinary borders and services, while maintaining individual clinical responsibility”.
For example, it said this could be managing the elective caesarean section lists and the induction-of-labour workload on a day when emergency activity has been high would be a topic for the huddle.
It added that huddles focused on sharing key general information to increase all team members’ situational awareness, improving patient flow and identifying patient safety concerns, including staffing.