Written by Andy Smith, MTM publisher

With so much debate on healthcare and its future it is perhaps worth reviewing one of the largest single systems in the world and what it is trying to do to move the needle in terms of patient safety.

There are many positives as reported in The Telegraph, a centrist ‘quality’ newspaper with national distribution on 1st July.

Dr. Aidan Fowler, NHS director of patient safety, is pushing the long established idea of a just culture and criticising the tendency of staff to close up and avoid collective responsibility by blaming individuals. “Instead, everyone working for the health service will be trained under a ‘patient safety syllabus’ which aims to ensure all workers respond quickly and openly when risks are spotted”.

An 82-page strategy document has been written and its highlights include;

  • Using technology to halve drug errors.
  • Using technology to identify frail patients and prevent falls.
  • Cut harm and deaths in maternity wards using improved risk assessment and surveillance.
  • Perhaps the largest single initiative, potentially a game changer though open to abuse, is a plan to allow staff, patients and families to report incidents via their mobile phones. In addition, bereaved families will have the chance to discuss concerns with an independent doctor, “under a new system of medical examiners”.

The article emphasizes that this latest initiative builds on the work of the NHS on patient safety across the last decade and reflects that this is part of a global process to improve patient safety.

To quote the NHS chief executive Simon Stevens, “while progress has been made there is still much to do.”

Indeed there is.

All interesting ideas but hardly new, though the initiation of what looks like an ‘internal complaints’ process and an independent group who will presumably be empowered to investigate clinicians might not be seen as a positive move within the NHS, but as staff shortages bite it may be that no one can be found to actually fill these positions.

Overall there are the usual ‘troubling’ elements when it comes to healthcare policing itself.

The very first statement “eleven thousand patients a year may be dying as a result of NHS blunders” is itself interesting.

Are 11,000 patients dying in this way or is it less or more? We still do not know the real figures it seems. Surely by now we should have accurate numbers.

The goal of all this effort is to “save 1,000 lives a year within five years”.

This seems rather unambitious. One thousand lives, or 9 percent of the total within five years? Why not 1,000 lives next year and 10,000 within five years?

But then this is healthcare and healthcare cannot achieve what every other industry has achieved in reducing avoidable error, or so the ‘healthcare’ industry would have us believe.

It appears we still do not have leadership commitment to truly improve healthcare; how very sad.