Doctor in white coat neck down

Buzzwords in Patient Safety: Some Preliminary Thoughts

By John Tingle and Amanda Cattini

Every profession, service, or industry maintains what can be termed, “buzzwords.” A “buzzword” can be defined as transient, flavor-of-the-month-type word, which describes a concept than can be seen to direct policy and practice until it becomes less topical and eventually fades away from general use. These terms come and go and are often refined and come back into use. In the National Health Service (NHS) in England, we have seen such pervading terms as clinical governance, patient empowerment, controls assurance, and patient advocacy.

Today there is what can arguably be called a new buzzword, “decolonization.” This word seems very much to be the term of the day. It pervades vast areas of academic and professional life and discourse. In terms of health law and patient safety research, the decolonization of national and global patient safety systems and structures seems an interesting perspective to further peruse.

One benefit of adopting decolonization perspectives to patient safety is that we can utilize the concept as a disrupter of established thinking and seek to establish new foundations of knowledge.

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3d rendering of a robot working with virtual display.

Artificial Intelligence and Health Law: Updates from England

By John Tingle

Artificial intelligence (AI) is making an impact on health law in England.

The growing presence of AI in law has been chronicled by organizations such as the Law Society, which published a forward-thinking, horizon-scanning paper on artificial intelligence and the legal profession back in 2018.

The report identifies several key emerging strands of AI development and use, including Q&A chatbots, document analysis, document delivery, legal adviser support, case outcome prediction, and clinical negligence analysis. These applications of AI already show promise: one algorithm developed by researchers at University College London, the University of Sheffield, and the University of Pennsylvania was able to predict case outcomes with 79% accuracy.

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doctor holding clipboard.

The Latest on Never Events in the NHS in England

By John Tingle

Never Events” — medical errors that should never occur — are a major and recurring problem in health care in England.

When they do occur, they sap confidence and trust in the health care system, and can result in significant injury or death to the patient. They can result in expensive litigation. There is also a significant financial cost to the NHS, which is always short of financial resources. The patient, their relatives, and all those involved in the incident bear emotional costs, too.

In the National Health Service (NHS), Never Events are defined and listed. The list includes such incidents as a foreign body being left in a patient, wrong implant/prosthesis, and wrong site surgery, among others. Sadly, the incidence of Never Events in the NHS is still too high.

Never Events are also a major patient safety metric that helps regulators such as the Care Quality Commission (CQC) and the public judge the safety of a hospital or other health care facility.

Recent publications highlight that Never Events remain a critical and a stubbornly persistent problem for the NHS to address.

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doctor holding clipboard.

Learning from Clinical Negligence Claims: The New NHS Patient Safety Syllabus

By John Tingle

As part of its patient safety strategy, the National Health Service (NHS) in England has created the first system-wide patient safety syllabus, training, and education framework.

Education and training are fundamental prerequisites for creating a patient safety culture in any health care system. This new patient safety syllabus is both innovative and reflective, combining systems and human factors thinking.

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NHS building

When Will the NHS Get Its Complaints System Right?

By John Tingle

The National Health Service (NHS) in England has been trying to get an effective, fit-for-purpose complaints system for at least 28 years, and it has still not succeeded.

This has been one of the NHS’s perpetual and intractable problems. History has not served the NHS well here, despite the publication of countless reports on patient safety and NHS complaint handling, and several major crises happening, such as Mid Staffordshire.

More often than not, the reports into patient safety crises and NHS complaints system reform all say the same (or similar) thing, and point to the same issues.

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NHS building

Health Care Providers’ Legal Duty to Be Open and Honest with Patients

By John Tingle

Last September, the first ever prosecution of a National Health Service (NHS) trust for failure to comply with the regulation concerning duty of candor was adjudicated.

University Hospitals Plymouth NHS Trust was ordered to pay a total of £12,565 after admitting it failed to disclose details relating to a surgical procedure and to apologize following the death of a 91-year-old woman.

Duties of candor require that patients be informed of adverse events as soon as possible after they occur. These duties serve as mechanisms to help balance power dynamics in health care and to advance patient rights. In England, duties of candor are contained in the professional codes of ethics of doctors and nurses, and in statutory regulations.

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Busy Nurse's Station In Modern Hospital

What’s in a Name? The Value of the Term ‘Never Events’

By John Tingle 

The Healthcare Safety Inspection Branch (HSIB) in England, which conducts independent investigations of patient safety concerns relating to the country’s National Health Service (NHS), has just published a learning report that examines the findings of investigations they have carried out on incidents classified as “Never Events.”

England’s NHS defines Never Events as “patient safety incidents that are wholly preventable,” in accordance with the implementation of “guidance or safety recommendations that provide strong systemic protective barriers.”

In the National Health Service’s policy and framework, Never Events are listed under the following headings: surgical, medication, mental health, and general. These headings include incidents such as overdose of certain medications, failure to remove a foreign object used during a procedure, and transfusion of incompatible blood.

The investigations for the HSIB report cover seven of the 15 types of Never Events listed in the National Health Service (NHS) Never Events policy and framework published in 2018. These seven categories account for over 96% of the total Never Events recorded in 2018 – 2019.

Controversially, the HSIB report recommends that NHS England and NHS Improvement revise the Never Events list to remove several which don’t have “strong and systemic safety barriers.” “These events,” the report states, “are therefore not wholly preventable and do not fit the current definition of Never Events.”

This suggestion is, arguably, not in the spirit of advancing the patient safety agenda in the NHS in England.

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The Inherent Value of Patient Safety Reports as Key Educational Tools

By John Tingle

Many patient safety adverse events across the National Health Service (NHS) in England have common causes, which exist regardless of clinical specialty, such as failures in communication, poor record keeping, and poor staffing levels.

This commonality of cause means that patient reports emanating from various clinical areas can have general, health system-wide value, relevance, and application. From these reports, it is possible to extrapolate generally applicable patient safety themes that can apply in a wide range of health care settings.

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