• Safety strategy proposes new safety support team to help challenged providers in “non-judgemental” way
  • National programmes will have default aim to reduce measurable harm by 50 per cent
  • The NHS could save 6,000 lives and £500m if reforms successful, says safety tsar

Up to 6,000 lives and £500m in costs could be saved by the NHS under reforms set out in the new NHS patient safety strategy, HSJ has been told.

Aidan Fowler, the recently appointed national director for patient safety, said the thousands of lives would be saved through reforms to how NHS trusts consider and respond to known safety issues with national programmes to reduce preventable harms by as much as 50 per cent.

Money would be saved through less errors, more efficient care and reduced litigation costs.

The strategy also revealed plans for a new patient safety support team, which will be drafted in to help trusts identified as having safety specific challenges.

Mr Fowler, a former consultant surgeon, told HSJ: “We are consulting on our proposals and we are not setting targets, but given what we know about patient safety in the NHS from research and our own data, the opportunity exists to save around 6,000 more lives and free up £0.5bn from the NHS’s budget every year.

“Realising this would be a tall order but patients deserve and expect us to be ambitious.”

NHS Improvement published the draft safety strategy shortly before Christmas as part of a consultation running until 15 February.

The document said: “For the NHS to be the safest healthcare system in the world we need a consistent focus on continuous learning and measurable improvement. This must be underpinned by a workforce and leaders who are enabled to deliver improvement in an open and transparent system that demonstrates a just culture.”

But it added: “Progress is being held back by insufficient patient safety education, knowledge, skills and understanding at all levels and in all staff groups.”

Key proposals include:

  • A dedicated “patient safety support team” for troubled organisations, which would help providers understand their challenges and help deliver improvement in a “non-judgemental way”; 
  • New senior patient safety specialists in every trust “to become the backbone of patient safety in the NHS”;
  • A national patient safety curriculum for all current and future NHS staff tailored to specific needs;
  • National safety initiatives having a default ambition to reduce measurable harm by 50 per cent;
  • Using artificial intelligence and machine learning to analyse incident reporting data;
  • Examining what goes well in healthcare as part of the “Safety II” concept;
  • Safety alerts from national bodies to be simplified and made consistent;
  • Designing solutions to prevent never events, such as using RFID swabs to prevent retention following surgery; and
  • Developing a just culture approach to incidents to enable staff to speak up.

Mr Fowler added: “We want to hear from as many people as possible during this consultation to help us create a strategy which will provide every patient with the safest possible care.”

Health minister Caroline Dinenage said: “Patient safety is the golden thread running through everything the NHS does and as we set out our long-term plan now is the time to re-focus our efforts.

“While we have made excellent progress, I want NHS staff to tell us how we can go even further and better support them to improve patient safety.”