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Help the NHS on its journey to being the safest healthcare system in the world

Last updated: 10:06am 17 May 2019

We will continue to help the NHS on its journey to being the safest healthcare system in the world.

Conservative Party Manifesto 2017, p.69

Our verdict

There are an estimated “24,000 serious incidents of healthcare harm in the NHS each year, and research suggests that around 150 deaths each week could have been avoidable were it not for problems in care”. In promising to help the NHS become the safest healthcare system in the world, the government is committing to attempting to reduce the number of “serious incidents” (usually used to mean incidents resulting in avoidable death or severe harm).

It’s also worth looking at the wording of this promise, as it could easily be misinterpreted. Rather than committing to being “the safest healthcare system in the world” this is a promise to “continue to help the NHS on its journey” to becoming the safest healthcare system in the world.

In September 2017, a draft Health Service Safety Investigations Bill proposed the creation of a new statutory body, the Health Service Safety Investigations Body (HSSIB) “whose purpose is to investigate patient safety risks across the NHS with a focus on learning from these incidents”. A key component is to create a “safe space”, preventing the HSSIB from disclosing information gathered, to encourage people to contribute to safety investigations and to avoid blame culture.

The bill is still in draft form. A Joint Committee was established to scrutinise and review the draft, and its report supported the “safe space” model but expressed concerns about limits on the remit and funding for the new HSSIB. The legislation has not yet been introduced to Parliament.

A further significant development under this government has been the publication of the NHS Long Term Plan, which contains various proposals aimed at improving patient safety, including:

  • a new Patient Safety Incident Management System
  • a more effective system of Patient Safety Alerts
  • develop a Patient Safety Curriculum
  • develop Patient Advocates for Safety
  • develop a network of senior Patient Safety Specialists
  • new Medication Safety and Mental Health Safety Improvement Programmes

This manifesto pledge was a promise to “continue” helping the NHS to improve safety. There’s enough evidence to consider this policy ‘done’.

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