The Health Foundation is an independent charity working to continuously improve the quality of heatlhcare in the UK

Safer Clinical Systems

In brief

People are often at their most vulnerable when they are accessing health care. They put their trust in the hands of the clinical staff caring for them. But how do they know they will be safe?

A million people use health care services each day and the vast majority are treated without incident. However, studies suggest that one in 10 patients admitted to hospital will experience some form of harm during their stay. In nearly every case the problem is caused by unreliable health care systems and processes. That’s why our Safer Clinical Systems programme is testing and demonstrating improvements to health care systems to make care safer.

Safer Clinical Systems takes a fresh and proactive approach to safety improvement. Rather than waiting until a problem has occurred, the programme helps health care teams understand where things are likely to fail in a particular service area in the future. This enables them to build better, safer health care systems.

Phase one of this programme began in 2008 with four project teams working to identify problems with current clinical systems and developing and testing improvement interventions.

Phase two of this programme began in October 2011. During this phase we supported eight health care organisations to implement and test the defined approach developed during phase one. This work focused on improving systems in two key areas: clinical handovers and prescribing.

The programme explored what we can learn from other hazardous industries, such as mining, aviation and nuclear power. This included adapting safety cases for health care, which is a commonly used mechanism for regulating products in other industries. 

The evaluation report and associated Health Foundation analysis provide helpful insights for those leading safety locally and nationally.

Throughout 2015/16, we will continue to work with six of the organisations. Building on the learning to date, we want to further understand the challenges and opportunities of proactively improving safety for wider use in the NHS.

I read with interest some of the projects in the Safer Clinical Systems pilots especially in terms of handovers.

I have been involved in a project addressing a Regional Abbreviations Policy for Northern Ireland and would be interested to hear if this has been a topic that has or will be considered in any of the phases of work through the Safer Clinical Systems ?
Dear Brenda

We have received the following note from our technical provider delivering this programme:

The issues of abbreviations has not been an aspect of SCS. It is recognised that different people use different abbreviations and the SCS approach would suggest that ‘elimination’ of the risk ( i.e. not using abbreviations) is safer than the mitigation of an approved list”.

We hope that helps answer your query.

Raheel Anwar
Programme Officer
The Health Foundation
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