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'Confusion' over patient safety protocols in primary care

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Primary care healthcare professionals indicated that there is some confusion over how to monitor patient safety, according to a study published in the BMJ Open.

The study, carried out by researchers at Imperial College London, interviewed 21 workers in primary care settings in North West London. It found that there was a ‘lack of clarity’ in what constituted a patient safety issue. Participants also reported that they were unclear about who is responsible to act on patient safety information or concerns. Several respondents stated that they were uncertain about which issues relating to patient safety needed to be reported. Others said that they did not have enough time to devote to considering patient safety issues, because of heavy workloads.

Lead researcher Professor Paul Aylin, from the School of Public Health at Imperial College London, said: ‘GPs and other primary care workers, including practice managers and other non-clinical staff, need to know when things go wrong so that they are able to act to improve patient care. Clinical staff do make mistakes – they are human, after all. In this small study, we weren't looking at whether poor reporting is leading to patterns of harm to patients. But in general, in order to improve any kind of service you need to understand what can go wrong and why, and how to prevent problems occurring again.’

Other issues highlighted in the study included staff being ‘overwhelmed with complicated data’ without any interpretation as to how it could be used to improve patient safety. There was also a lack of clarity over which patient safety events are required to be reported to the relevant authorities.

Professor Aylin added: ‘Our study was small and it only looked at primary care workers in North West London, but it does raise some interesting questions about how safety is monitored and how monitoring can be used to ensure continuous improvement of what is already an excellent primary healthcare system in the UK.’

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