How the national Patient Safety team engages patients for patient safety

The theme of this year’s World Patient Safety Day is ‘engaging patients for patient safety’. In this blog, Hester Wain, Head of Patient Safety Policy, along with Penny Phillips and Douglas Findlay, two of the patient safety partners working to support the national Patient Safety team, introduce NHS England’s work with patient safety partners. To support other organisations going through this process, the blog also shares some of the approaches NHS England has taken in introducing patient safety partners.

“Patients and their carers should be present, powerful partners.”

This quote comes from Professor Don Berwick in 2013, at the time the report of his advisory group ‘A promise to learn – a commitment to act’ was published. The report was commissioned by Prime Minister David Cameron, to make recommendations on the changes that were needed on how the NHS can improve patient safety, in the aftermath of the failings at Mid Staffs.

The national Patient Safety team has worked with patient representatives for many years in various ways, including being integrally involved in co-designing the NHS patient safety strategy, which was published in 2019.

The NHS patient safety strategy emphasises the importance of involving patients as partners in their own care, as well as the vital role of their families and carers, and other lay people, in working with care providers to help improve the quality of NHS care.

Following the publication of the 2021 Framework for involving patients in patient safety (a key part of the NHS patient safety strategy) the relationship with patient safety representatives working with the national team was formalised, when they became National Patient Safety Partners.

Patient Safety Partners are patients, carers, family members or other lay people recruited to work in partnership with staff to influence and improve the governance and leadership of safety within an NHS organisation. The framework recommended patient safety partners be recruited across healthcare organisations to sit on patient safety committees.

We now have 14 national patient safety partners working with the NHS England national Patient Safety team. Each one plays a key role in the further development and oversight of the Patient Safety Strategy, and its programmes of work to support the NHS to improve patient safety. Listening and acting on the perspective, insight and experience of our patient safety partners, is helping to ensure the strategy continues to be the right approach for patients and staff alike, no matter what their background. With the ultimate goal of supporting the NHS to improve the safety of care for everyone.

Patient safety partners have played a key role in the development and oversight of programmes within the Patient Safety Strategy. This includes the Patient safety incident response framework, the establishment of medical examiners to provide independent scrutiny of deaths, the Medicines Safety Improvement Programme, and work to develop a ‘Simple steps to keep you safe during your hospital stay’ video and leaflet for patients. They currently support 18 different areas of work.

They are equal partners in the programmes they are involved in and provide very valuable input and challenge.

The Framework for involving patients in patient safety, is underpinned by nine principles described below, which are important in ensuring the success of working with patient safety partners. We’ve also described some of the approaches we have taken to implement those principles. We hope this will be useful to other organisations in recruiting, engaging and working with their own patient safety partners and to promote the voice of patients.

1. Commitment to involving patient safety partners in patient safety

NHS England formalised its relationship with the patient representatives working with the patient safety team, by making them national patient safety partners.

2. Creating a framework to develop and support patient safety partners’ involvement

We have developed a national Patient Safety team patient safety partner agreement setting out a number of agreements to facilitate the role, and how the partners will be supported.

3. Inclusive approaches to attracting patient safety partners

To ensure we are able to attract patient safety partners from a wide range of backgrounds and abilities, we advertise the roles as widely as possible, as well as asking staff across the NHS to help identify potential candidates. We also ask other organisations to support this, including Healthwatch, National Association of Patient Participation Groups, Academy of Royal Medical Colleges Patient Group, and National Voices.

4. Recruiting patient safety partners

We monitor the diversity of applicants and our national patient safety partners to understand if there are any biases in our recruitment and selection processes. We also consider how the diversity of our patient safety partners relates to the UK population. You can find out more in this presentation on FutureNHS (you will need to register for a FutureNHS to access the presentation).

5. Induction and training for patient safety partners

We provide patient safety partners with an introductory briefing presentation about our work, and ask them to complete training, including the NHS patient safety syllabus training levels 1 and 2. We have produced frequently asked questions for the national patient safety partners, which may be helpful for other organisations considering what to include in an induction pack.

6. Developing patient safety partner roles and task profiles

We have a ‘task profile’ system to make our patient safety partners aware of areas where we need their support, enabling them to register their interest in supporting a particular task, which amongst other things, includes sitting on task and finish groups, working on implementation groups and participating in regular committees. The task profile system helps them to be flexible about how and when they work with us. You can view some examples of our ‘task profiles’ on FutureNHS (you will need to register for a Future NHS to access the task profiles).

7. Safeguarding patient safety partners, staff and patients and 8. Supporting patient safety partners

Each of our patient safety partners has been assigned someone in the national Patient Safety team as a mentor. As well as supporting their development, this includes acknowledging that patient safety partners may be exposed to highly emotional experiences from aspects of their involvement and ensuring their wellbeing is supported, including through regular meetings with their mentor. We have developed a mentor handbook.

9. Valuing and recognising patient safety partner contributions

Valuing and recognising the contribution of our patient safety partners is integral to every part of our relationship with them, and we provide thanks, feedback and recognition wherever we can. We also regularly seek their feedback to help us improve how we work with them.

You can find out more about our work with patient safety partners and view a range of other blogs, podcasts and videos about engaging patients for patient safety on our World Patient Safety Day 2023 webpage. This includes podcasts recorded with our patient safety partners. In recording these it was an absolute privilege to listen to those partners telling their stories of how and why they became involved and hearing the passion they have for patient safety.

Photograph of Dr Hester Wain, Head of Patient Safety Policy for NHS England

Dr Hester Wain is the Head of Patient Safety Policy for NHS England

Hester has worked in the NHS since 2004, in both the provider and commissioning sectors. She previously had an academic career as a senior postdoctoral research fellow at University College London working on the Human Genome Project.

Her role is to inspire, motivate and influence the NHS to help develop patient safety improvements across healthcare, to reduce harm to patients and staff. With over 10 years’ experience using quality improvement science to implement and embed sustainable changes, Hester leads on patient safety policy within the areas of safety culture, primary care, and inequalities and supports other implementation work with patient safety specialists and partners.

In 2018, Hester graduated with the Nye Bevan award from the NHS Leadership Academy and used this experience to develop her knowledge and understanding of diversity and the impacts of inequalities on both staff and patients and how these can be reduced. Hester is passionate about diversity and is a member/ally supporting several staff networks. As a qualified coach/mentor Hester supports a number of NHS staff to develop their talents.

Douglas Findlay has worked with the national Patient Safety team for many years as a patient representative and more recently as a national patient safety partner. Douglas is part of the ongoing Involving Patients in Patient Safety co-design group.

Photograph of Penny Phillips, national patient safety partner

Penny Phillips has been a national patient safety partner since April 2022, and has also supported the national Patient Safety team on a number of previous occasions as a patient representative. Penny is part of the ongoing Involving Patients in Patient Safety co-design group.