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Patient safety special focus

The inseparable link between nursing and patient safety

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Suzette Woodward, director of implementation, introduces Patient Safety First, a campaign to make safety the highest priority

Quality and patient safety are now high on the agenda. How safe will I be? How effective will the treatment be? What will the experience be like? These three key questions form the basis of the definition of quality in the Darzi report High Quality Care for All (Department of Health, 2008).

If you ask nurses whether patient safety is important to them, they are usually offended to even be asked. Nurses play a vital role in keeping their patients safe and have done so since the days of Florence Nightingale. However, this does not mean that all risk is avoidable and that making things as safe as possible is easy. We know that things go wrong; even with the best intentions this happens.

Research across the world shows that approximately 10% of hospital inpatients are unintentionally harmed by the care received (Kohn et al, 2000). These studies have also estimated that around 50% of these incidents could have been avoided. Our knowledge is further enhanced by incident reporting systems; for example, the NPSA has over three million incidents in its national reporting and learning system.

Putting patient safety first

Patient Safety First has been set up to support a change in the culture of the NHS, and was launched in June 2008. With the purpose of making patient safety everyone’s highest priority, and led by NHS staff for the health service, Patient Safety First is an approach that aims to make sustainable changes to the way we approach this issue. The campaign focuses efforts on five key clinical and leadership interventions known to make a difference. The leadership intervention is for everyone in the NHS in all care settings. The four clinical interventions (outlined in this special focus) enable hospital staff to use tried and tested approaches from improvement science to reduce human error and increase the reliability of the systems in which they work.

This is an initiative with a difference. It is led by a team of experienced NHS clinicians and senior leaders who are passionate about patient safety. As a campaign, the approach is based on the principles of social movements. Its messages strongly connect with the values of frontline staff and leaders, enabling it to mobilise large numbers to take positive action.

It joins a wider international movement focused on saving lives and reducing avoidable harm in hospitals. By applying learning from similar campaigns in Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland, the US, Canada and Denmark, and building on existing experience in the NHS, the campaign can make a sustainable difference to the safety of patient care in England.

It is sponsored by three leading organisations in the field of improvement and safety: the NPSA, the NHS Institute for Innovation and Improvement and The Health Foundation.

Nurses’ role in the campaign

Nurses are uniquely placed as advocates for patient safety to make a significant difference in improvement in this area. You have the opportunity now through Patient Safety First to work with clinicians and managers who have tried and tested safer practices and can share their lessons with you. You can take part by volunteering your commitment to making patient safety your number one priority.

Find out if you are a ‘signed up’ trust for the campaign, ask who the executive and clinical lead for your organisation is and whether their ‘spread plan’ includes your care area. If conversation about Patient Safety First has not happened where you are practising yet, use the occasion of an adverse incident and patient story to start discussion about how things might be done differently.

Share your experiences too via the Patient Safety First website (see below). The success of this campaign depends on us all, and you, as nurses, have a tremendous contribution to make. Please respond to and engage with this ‘call for action’ and play your part in putting Patient Safety First.

Suzette Woodward, director of implementation, Patient Safety First (and nursing lead for patient safety, NPSA).

Click here to sign up for Patient Safety First and share your experiences

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