2021: The importance of patient engagement for patient safety

  • 16th December 2021

This is the fourth 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 consider the need for greater patient engagement to support improvements to 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.

Too often health and social care is designed and delivered around the traditional idea that the patient is the passive participant in the care process. A recurring theme that emerges time and again from serious patient safety failings is that concerns raised by patients and family members are not acted on and, when harm occurs, they are left out of the investigation process.

Discussing the shocking degree of avoidable harm to patients as a result of side effects of hormone pregnancy tests, sodium valproate and pelvic mesh implants, the findings of last year’s important patient safety report First Do No Harm reflected on patients encountering a system that is “either unable or unwilling to help”. It stressed that patients should “not have to join the dots for patient safety”. This was echoed by the independent Patient Reference Group, established to provide advice, challenge and scrutiny to the Government’s response to this report.

One outcome of this report has been plans for the creation of new Patient Safety Commissioners to act as independent champions and voices for patients. Patient Safety Learning has responded to the consultations on these new bodies in both England and Scotland this year. We emphasised the importance of Patient Safety Commissioners having the resources and powers they need to influence change, but also highlighted that these new roles alone will not bring about the transformation in patient engagement that we need.

Patient engagement is one of the six foundations of safe care we identify in our report, A Blueprint for Action, setting out what is needed to progress towards a patient-safe future. We outline how patients should be engaged for safety at the point of care, if things go wrong, in improving services, in advocating for changes and in holding the system to account.

We want the hub to provide a platform to help support patient campaigners to get their voices heard by those with the power to change systems - systems that are still causing avoidable harm to patients.

This year, one patient campaigner using the hub to highlight important patient safety issues has been Kath Sansom, founder of the Sling the Mesh campaign. She runs an online support group of over 9.200 patients who have been harmed by surgical mesh. Kath has written several blogs on the hub this year, raising awareness of regulatory flaws that have failed women, the fact that many patients still can’t access consistent mesh removal surgery, and about dangerous holes in medical device regulatory systems.

the hub has also provided a platform to raise the profile of patient safety issues concerning painful hysteroscopy and IUD fitting, with community conversations highlighting that women are not given enough information about the potential side effects and the options open to them when going for these procedures.

We have also been seeking patient experiences on the issue of surgical site infections. One in 20 patients who undergo a surgical procedure contract a surgical site infection afterwards, but 60% of these infections are preventable. We have been gathering patients' stories to highlight the damaging impact these infections can have, as part of a project sponsored by Mölnlycke.

Patient Safety Learning will continue to speak out, collaborate and campaign in these areas, and many more. We hope you will join us and offer your voice and knowledge to make healthcare safer for everyone.

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