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Considering the ‘ostrich syndrome’ and patient safety

12 March 2020
Volume 29 · Issue 5


John Tingle, Lecturer in Law, Birmingham Law School, University of Birmingham, discusses two patient safety reports, which stress the importance of taking proper action when patient safety incidents occur

The NHS is littered with examples of cases where individuals and organisations have seemingly buried their heads in the sand when patient safety errors have occurred. Attitudes range from refusing to take responsibility, assuming that another organisation is dealing with the matter, delaying a response or even ignoring the situation completely. Failure to report a patient safety adverse incident may be because of the fear of disciplinary consequences and this has been well chronicled. There may also be other reasons why adverse patient safety incidents are not dealt with properly.

The Mid Staffordshire Public Inquiry identified a negative, engrained Trust culture, which included a tolerance of poor standards and denial of concerns:

‘While it is clear that, in spite of the warning signs, the wider system did not react to the constant flow of information signalling cause for concern, those with the most clear and close responsibility for ensuring that a safe and good standard care was provided to patients in Stafford, namely the Board and other leaders within the Trust, failed to appreciate the enormity of what was happening, reacted too slowly, if at all, to some matters of concern of which they were aware, and downplayed the significance of others.’

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