Patient safety action teams are now helping make safety part of the mainstream NHS in all 10 strategic health authorities. Martin Fletcher explains their work

The National Patient Safety Agency's priority is supporting the efforts of the NHS locally to improve patient safety.

Safety First, the Department of Health's review of patient safety in the NHS, recommended a key change to strengthen our approach. This took the form of locally accountable patient safety action teams formed by each strategic health authority in England working in close partnership with local trusts. The 28 patient safety managers currently working with the NPSA in England would form the basis of these local teams.

Since 1 October, patient safety action teams have been established in all 10 SHAs. Our vision is that the teams will make a practical difference to build a stronger culture of safety on the front line.

Key components of this approach include better local action planning for patient safety, clear priorities underpinned by data from our national reporting and learning system and other sources of knowledge, and work with trusts and frontline staff.

Local needs, national initiatives

Around half of the action teams' work will be driven by local needs, while the other half will be driven by national initiatives. Priorities will include improving the quality and quantity of incident reporting, helping trusts analyse and act on their own data, supporting robust incident investigations and the implementation of safer practices and other patient safety guidance.

The teams will draw on a range of skills and knowledge, each underpinned by intelligence, information and analysis. There is a strong foundation to build on as a result of the excellent work of the NPSA patient safety managers to date. Because progress on patient safety requires concerted action from a wide range of players, the teams will establish and become part of active collaborative networks in their local health communities.

We are already seeing innovative approaches to building these networks. For example, NHS South Central has established a patient safety federation that brings together a collaborative grouping of chief executives and trust directors, along with the NPSA and the NHS Institute for Innovation and Improvement. In the East of England, a patient safety steering group has been set up, chaired by a chief executive with involvement of senior trust representatives from across the patch.

Mainstream safety

Working in close partnership, the NPSA and SHAs see the action teams as an excellent opportunity to make patient safety part of the mainstream NHS. We all want to see a vibrant and collaborative national learning system backed up by clear expectations between the agency and local health communities on safety actions and outputs.

The NPSA will provide leadership and work hard with all involved to ensure that these teams are equipped and supported to shape and lead a renewed patient safety agenda locally which leads to practical improvements in patient safety.

We will be establishing a national network of patient safety action teams with the first meeting in December. A key focus of this meeting will be to better understand how the action teams are being established and how we can best support their continued development.

It is early days, though, and much remains to be done. The stakes are nothing less than ensuring that improving patient safety is everyone’s priority and that the NHS truly puts patient safety first.