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Patient and healthcare worker safety should be prioritised post-pandemic, report says

by Beth Gault
20 October 2021

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The relationship between patient and healthcare worker safety is ‘symbiotic’ and both need to be prioritised after the impact of Covid-19 on the NHS, a new white paper has said.

The Safety for All white paper, published by the Safety for All campaign, has called for more focus on both patient and healthcare worker safety in order to prevent incidents and deliver better outcomes.

It said there was a ‘clear relationship’ between working conditions and healthcare worker injuries, and poor working conditions with poor quality of care and patient injuries.

The white paper added that the Covid-19 pandemic had a ‘major impact’ on patient safety as well as staff wellbeing, illness and absence from work.

In response, the report has called for a ‘universal safety climate’ in healthcare which promotes and supports both patient and healthcare worker safety.

The white paper said: ‘For many healthcare workers in stressful and hazardous conditionsthe default position is to prioritise the interests of patients over their own and, while this is understandable, it is not only unhealthy it is not in the best interests of patients either.

‘Patients are prioritisedin medical technology, safety systems and controls over workers in healthcare but the safety of both patients and staff is poorly resourced to the detriment of their interconnected safety and wellbeing.

‘This does not make any sense as safety outcomes for both patients and workers are linked to the commitment of management and staffing levels. Poor leadership and inadequate staffing thus impacts the safety of both patients and healthcare workers.’

The authors said prioritising patient and healthcare worker safety would help ensure resilience in the system to prevent and respond to future crises like Covid-19.

The report made five recommendations, including:

  • Improved understanding and advocacy of the mutual benefits to be accrued for patient safety by improving healthcare worker safety, and vice versa.
  • The application of shared learning and best practice between workplace and patient safety, and solutions in safety systems, standards, governance and preventative measures.
  • Resources, leadership and staff committed to a reciprocal patient and workplace safety culture.
  • Greater support for staff to speak up following patient safety incidents.
  • Improved risk management and reporting of safety incidents, learning and communication.

Dean Russell, MP andmember of the Health and Social Care Select Committee, said: ‘The NHS estimates that there are 11,000 avoidable deaths in the UK each year due to patient safety incidents. 

‘We must look at the issue of patient safety holistically. If we can change our approach, then then we can reduce the number of serious safety incidents. Also, if we ensure, in the transition back to normality following the pandemic, that the safety of healthcare workers is a priority this will also impact positively on patient safety.’

Jonathan Hazan, chair of Patient Safety Learning, which is part of the Safer Healthcare and Biosafety Network that set up the campaign, said: ‘Avoidable harm has complex causes and to address them, we must transform the system so that patient safety is core to the purpose of health and social care, not just one of many competing priorities.

‘We are engaging with politicians, healthcare organisations, professionals and patients to push for the system-wide change which will result in the reduction of harm.’

It comes after a petition was launched calling for parliament to discuss the increased demand on GP services and the resulting impact on patients’ ability to safely access care.