2021: Developing patient safety standards

  • 17th December 2021

This is the fifth and final of a short series of blogs in which we take a look back at our work in five areas of patient safety during 2021. In this blog we outline how we have been working this year to develop organisational standards for patient safety.

Throughout our work, Patient Safety Learning seeks to harness the knowledge, insights, enthusiasm and commitment of health and social care organisations, professionals and patients for system-wide change and the reduction of avoidable harm. We believe patient safety is not just another priority; it is a core purpose of health and social care. Patient safety should not be negotiable.

Although organisations are legally required to take ‘all reasonable and practical steps’ to improve safety, avoidable harm in healthcare continues to persist.

In the UK, prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, there were 11,000 avoidable deaths annually due to safety concerns and over 400,000 incidents of patient harm. We don’t yet know the full implications that the pandemic has had on patient safety, but we know it has both magnified existing patient safety issues and created new ones.

Patient Safety Learning believes that one of the primary reasons for the persistence of such shocking figures is that healthcare does not have or apply standards for patient safety in the way that it does for other safety issues. The standards it does have are insufficient and inconsistent.

In our report A Blueprint for Action (2019), we set out what is needed to progress towards a patient-safe future, including the development and implementation of organisational and system standards for patient safety.

We believe that by adopting and implementing comprehensive patient safety standards, organisations will be able to deliver safer care and embed a commitment to patient safety throughout their work. This would also enable patients, leaders, clinicians, the wider public and regulators to assess their progress and performance in improving patient safety.

Since 2020, we have been developing and designing a set of unique patient safety standards and support tools that can help organisations not only establish clearly defined safety aims and goals, but also guide their implementation and demonstrate their achievement.

Patient Safety Learning’s Standards are based on 20 years of research, as well as learning from inquiries, policy and good practice from healthcare, both in the UK and internationally. We have built on insight and learning from human factors and ergonomics, widely applied in other safety-critical industries.

We have supplemented this with our own research, working in partnership with organisational patient safety specialists and practitioners to ensure that our Standards are quality assured, with ‘real world’ practicality. Our aim is that these will help to deliver enhanced, evidence-based safety outcomes and behaviours.

The centre-piece of our work will be a unique, easy-to-use portal that is pre-populated with our Standards and gives clear guidance as to the good practice, outcomes and behaviours needed to achieve them. This self-assessment tool can be used either as a stand-alone resource, or an online extension to our Standards reference booklet.

This year we have been working with the NHS to look at how these Standards can be implemented as an integral part of a broader patient safety change management programme.

Going into the new year, we will be formally launching our Standards and working with more organisations to put them into practice.



A platform for anyone with an interest in patient safety to share and learn from one another. Learn more.

Sign up to our newsletter