Published: 30/06/2005, Volume II5, No. 5962 Page 22

With the deadline for the 2005 HSJ Awards less than three weeks away, we speak to two of last year's winners whose awards have helped them further improve their services

Sponsored by the National Patient Safety Agency

The most abiding memories of the HSJ 2004 awards ceremony for Tracey Boyce, regional co-ordinating pharmacist of the Northern Ireland Medicines Governance Team, were the shock of winning the Patient Safety award and the satisfaction of being in such a celebratory atmosphere.

'We were just happy to be shortlisted. We really were not expecting much on the night so hearing our names called out was amazing, ' she says. 'The whole evening was so positive. The press tends to focus on bad news, but the truth is that there are lots of highly committed individuals working hard on very innovative projects and getting little, if any, credit. If it wasn't for events like the HSJ Awards you probably wouldn't get to hear about them.'

The award for their medication risk-reduction strategy project has meant further recognition for the team. Since the awards, Ms Boyce has spoken at the International Harm Reduction conference and the convention of the European Drug Utilisation Group. The team has also secured funding to extend the project into primary care.

'Our entry was a means of sharing basic safety initiatives with a wider audience. It also meant recognition for work originating in a part of the UK that can be a bit isolated.' Rigorous data collection and analysis is key to the project, which seeks to tackle deeply ingrained anxieties. Drug errors and near miss incidents can provoke fear of disciplinary action and consequently are underreported.

Ms Boyce points out why such a reaction reinforces the problem: 'Research shows that 85 per cent of errors in healthcare are the fault of the system, yet 98 per cent of remedial action focuses on the individual rather than the root of the problem.' The team's risk-management project provides a means of challenging this culture and scrutinising procedures. As a result, non-harmful incident reporting is more frequent and changes have already been made to the way drugs are checked and dispensed.

'Things can happen at any stage of the procedure, ' says Ms Boyce, 'from prescribing to administration.

Our monitoring has allowed us to identify common issues and help everybody learn.'