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Patient Safety - A Top Priority?

A leading healthcare advisor, Professor Don Berwick, has advised in a report published on 6 August 2013 that patient safety in the NHS should be the top priority. 

Professor Berwick, who is Barack Obama’s former health adviser, has led a review into the NHS in response to concerns raised by the Stafford Hospital scandal. He concludes in the report “Improving the Safety of Patients in England” that there is a need for significant change throughout the whole NHS system, and that there should be a new culture of openness and transparency. He stressed that every ward needs to consider relevant information to ensure that at all times care is safe, and staffing levels are sufficient to avoid safety being compromised. In some hospitals, studies have shown that nurses are allocated up to eleven, or even fifteen, patients a night, even though research shows that more than eight patients per nurse is likely to increase safety risks.

During the Stafford hospital crisis, on one floor of the hospital staff shortages apparently became so extreme that there were only two nurses caring for forty patients.  Unfortunately, in some hospitals experienced nurses have been replaced by unqualified and untrained health care assistants in order to save money, but this of course potentially places patients at significant risk and puts staff under unacceptable pressure.

Professor Berwick commented “In any organisation, mistakes will happen and problems will arise, but we shouldn’t accept harm to patients as inevitable.  By introducing an even more transparent culture, one where mistakes are learnt from, where the wonderful staff of the NHS are supported to learn and grow in their capacity to improve the NHS, and patients are always put first, the NHS will see real and lasting change”.

The Government have said that they will respond in full to the proposals made in this report in the autumn but meanwhile, the Shadow Health Secretary has pointed out that due to cuts in funding, nursing jobs are continuing to be axed.  Sadly patient safety is still not being put first.