A significant improvement has been recorded in the proportion of older patients receiving “harm free” care following a major patient safety trial, HSJ can disclose.

The trial also reduced disparities in performance between regions.

The proportion of inpatients aged 70 or over who were treated without “suffering harm” - for instance by picking up an additional condition or injury - increased by over four percentage points, according to a Department of Health study obtained by HSJ.

The DH’s quality, innovation, productivity and prevention programme’s safe care team collected data nationally on patients who had falls, pressure ulcers, urinary infections from a catheter or a venous thromboembolism - a form of blood clot - during last year’s Safety Express pilot scheme.

The pilot focused on training, active risk management and encouraging staff to prioritise interventions which could stop patients experiencing further harm.

The data showed an increase in patients getting harm-free care, with the population rising from 83.8 per cent to 88 per cent.

The report pointed to disparities in performance across regions, although it acknowledged these could have been caused by differences in data collection.

Before the pilot only 79.3 per cent of patients in the East Midlands received “harm free” care, compared with 89.5 per cent in the North East.

At the end of the pilot the largest difference between regions had shrunk to 6.2 per cent, with the East Midlands’ figure rising to 84.2 per cent and the North West getting the highest figure of 90.4 per cent.

The data came from the NHS Safety Thermometer survey, the results of which the DH has now made part of the national incentive payments scheme in the 2012-13 contract. The information was collated from 50,000 returns from care settings including nursing homes and patients’ own homes, although 80 per cent of them came from hospitals.

QIPP safe care lead Maxine Power said the four causes of harm had been chosen because they disproportionately affected older patients. She also said there was a “balancing aspect since, for example, limiting a patient’s mobility may reduce falls but increase the risk of pressure ulcers or VTE”.

The report, sent to NHS London in November, also suggested there could be under-reporting of harm from pressure ulcers in official hospital episode statistics data.

It suggested 8.9 per cent of the survey group experienced pressure ulcers while English HES data recorded them in less than 1 per cent of patients.