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Patient safety: a multifaceted issue

26 November 2020
Volume 29 · Issue 21


John Tingle, Lecturer in Law, Birmingham Law School, University of Birmingham, discusses the need for an integrated approach to patient safety, and the argument that error is inevitable and risk can only be managed

Patient safety is a multifaceted concept and involves many academic disciplines and fields of expertise. There will always be a multitude of approaches to solving problems and dealing with important questions. Capturing these views, analysing them and seeking a consensus to drive forward change is inevitably going to be a challenge.

Patient safety policy development in the NHS historically has been marked by over-regulation, duplication and overlap of organisational functions. It has been hard to see where the system is going and its aims and objectives—it has been over-engineered for many years and there have been many competing agendas, which impeded progress.

Matters have improved significantly over recent years in terms of conceptual underpinning, and the aims and objectives are now much clearer. The NHS Patient Safety Strategy (NHS England and NHS Improvement, 2019) states a clear direction for patient safety policy travel in the NHS. However, policy development in some areas can still be seen to be less than satisfactory, such as in clinical negligence and patient safety where a siloed approach to policy development has been evident. The National Audit Office (NAO) (2017) argued that the government lacked a policy-based, coherent cross-government strategy to support measures to tackle the rising cost of clinical negligence, and that a ‘stronger and more integrated approach’ was needed. The latest annual report from NHS Resolution (2020) shows that this work is ongoing, and something the body is contributing to.

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