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Patient safety and the law: driving the development of a patient safety culture

25 May 2023
Volume 32 · Issue 10


John Tingle, Lecturer in Law, Birmingham Law School, University of Birmingham, discusses several recent reports on clinical negligence and patient safety

When discussing patient safety and law initiatives it is always useful to ask what the rationale is or the driving force behind them. This provides much needed clarity, context, focus – and will help with implementation and discussion. It could well be that some initiatives are designed primarily to reduce or head off litigation and complaints.

Conversely, the aims may be much broader, designed to improve healthcare quality, patient outcomes, satisfaction and so on. In practice, there will often be several declared aims and outcomes. Avoiding clinical negligence litigation and complaints can often be one of them. Aims can be expressed formally in reports or implied.

This discussion raises the issue of what is primarily driving the development of an NHS patient safety culture and how these aims could be seen negatively by nurses, doctors and other stakeholders. For example, a patient safety initiative could be targeted at litigation reduction, which may provoke negative perceptions. Nurses and doctors may feel that the legal profession is dictating clinical practice.

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