Why patient safety is the whole point of healthcare

In 2019, WHO launched the first ever World Patient safety day, a global campaign seeking to raise awareness and bring people together in the pursuit of safer systems, safer culture and safer care for patients. It was great to have a day globally dedicated, where healthcare professionals, patients, service users, families and relatives came together to focus their hearts and minds on safer care, collaboration, doing things right and celebrating the successes and learning when things go wrong.

But of course patient safety is not something that we can focus on for just one day of the year. Since the publication of ’To err is human’ 20 years ago, great progress has been made, yet there is still so much more to do. The NHS has demonstrated a constant desire for enhancing safety delivery, designing safer systems, driving out variation and utilising improvement methodology for sustainable change. It is the constant beat and rhythm of organisations striving for outstanding patient care, that can be heard in the rapid cycle testing of ideas, to understand which interventions will produce improvement and which ones will make care safer.

My passion for patient safety has gained momentum over several years and has culminated in the privileged role of Deputy Chief Nursing Officer, leading the Nursing Safety and Innovation portfolio on behalf of the CNO for England. The portfolio is exciting, covering a range of priorities, and my team is looking to extend our work from focus on providers, to integrated care partnerships, and ultimately across to integrated care systems.

We have seen huge success with the annual national Stop the Pressure campaign and will move this work on this year with the national wound care strategy. We will continue to deliver end of life care, infection prevention and control and acute deterioration with a focus on quality.  And we are leading on new work in clinical sustainability, and the nursing contribution to outpatients transformation and innovation.

We recognise that patient safety cannot be led and delivered in isolation, and to achieve further success in harm prevention, collaboration and multi-professional delivery is key. Therefore, as we embark on delivery of the priorities in the Long Term Plan, we are forging strong professional bonds with safety partners inside and outside the NHS. In addition, the publication of the Patient Safety Strategy in 2019, strengthens our commitment to support the transformation across a number of safety priorities for 2020, whilst reaffirming our safety vision; to continuously improve patient safety.

I recently met with a patient safety leader in the third sector who talked about safety not as activity that we do, but as the core purpose of healthcare. I was struck by this articulate and succinct view and have spent time reflecting on how we could positively exploit this purpose, with our full power.

We need to use intelligence and insight; involve and equip patients, staff and partners with the right skills, to create conditions where improvement methods will flourish and become second nature. This seems very challenging: how do we focus on this when there are so many other competing priorities?

My personal and professional opinion is that if we do not make time to build a strong foundation for safe care, where the culture of patient safety abounds, then we will not build safer systems and we will not improve experience and outcomes for patients. This requires a significant rethink! We will need to work collectively to re-engineer our thinking around safety, and transcend traditional organisational boundaries. We need to re-imagine a system where people are celebrated for their curiosity and creativity, and where identifying system flaws become the norm, and these are actively sought and designed out. And patients and families are our strongest assets! We must make sure they are involved in every step of improvement, and listen to what they have to say to reach the safer future we all dream of. Finally 2020 is the #YearoftheNurseandMidwife. As nurses and midwives, this is our time to shine a light on all that is good about the care we deliver for patients. I look forward to working with colleagues in #teamCNO, and in all of health and care, to make this happen.

Sue Tranka is the Deputy Chief Nursing Officer for Patient Safety and Innovation at NHS England and Improvement.

Sue has 28 years of experience in nursing and has spent the last 21 years working in the National Health service. Sue trained as a midwife, registered general nurse, mental heath and community nurse. Sue’s career spans both operational and clinical leadership roles. Her passion for patient safety and quality improvement culminated in her establishing and leading a Critical Care Outreach team in a North London hospital. Sue‘s nurse consultant and leadership roles have predominantly focussed in the safety arena. Sue has a strong interest in quality improvement, human factors and safety systems.

More recently she has held a Board level role as a Chief Nurse in a provider organisation. Sue currently holds an honorary visiting professor role with University of Surrey and has established a link with Staffordshire University as a professional advisor on Human Factors programme.

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