Patient safety and quality of care are important areas for the government and are quite rightly top priorities. Delivering them will be the responsibility of NHS trust boards, writes Robina Shah

The NHS's reputation depends on how satisfied our patients, staff and the community are with our performance on patient safety and quality of care.

However, Lord Darzi's review of quality of care reminds us that our focus must not be simply on finding out what quality care looks like. It must also identify the strategic levers that will motivate health organisations to provide world class healthcare.

This requires full engagement with all staff at all levels in the NHS community, underpinned by innovative system incentives and robust informatics.

The challenge to the NHS is to create a language of patient safety and quality that is owned by everyone. For this to happen, there has to be an agreed working definition of patient safety - one which is transferable, which can be implemented within the NHS system management process, and which is consistent across all the key stakeholder groups and supported by health regulators.

There also needs to be agreement about what kind of information will yield the best data on patient safety and patient quality. This should be based on defining the patient experience with a view to agreeing on performance indicators that are meaningful, realistic and can be measured in the context of patient safety and quality of care.

Developing metrics for patient safety

To achieve these aims, we need to answer a few key questions. For example:

  • What do we mean and understand by patient safety and quality of care?

  • Which organisational changes and strategies are required to create and deliver a patient safety culture?

  • What sort of information does the board need to assure itself that patient safety is paramount and how do we know that best practice is being achieved?

  • Which methodology should we be using to present clear, timely and accurate information to boards to ensure compliance with statutory duties?

  • How will we test the models we are using?

  • How will the information be reported?

  • Who has accountability?

  • Which audits work, how are they reviewed and how is this information reported to boards?

  • How will we benefit from handling, managing and responding to complaints? How will this inform the patient safety and quality agenda?

  • How can we share practical evidence-based strategies that have been proven to work?

How do you think patient safety and quality of care can be embedded in the culture of the NHS? Post your ideas and responses to Robina's column by clicking the reader response link below.