James Reason on BBC Radio 4 Part 2

Back in February I got very excited and wrote a post about a 2-programme BBC Radio 4 series presented by Prof James Reason. I have finally had chance to catch up with the second part of this programme – even though it aired on 5th March! Yes I have been that busy. I like being busy though so I am most definitely not complaining.  Before you read this, you may want to read my earlier post which introduces the programme.

The second installment, I am sad to report did not include pharmacists amongst the healthcare professionals invited to talk on the programme. I had hoped it might, but it is only a 30 minute programme and they really were going for the heads of the big NHS /NHS related services so, it is not surprising. Despite the lack of pharmacy input into the programme, it was still very interesting and there were lots of points that could easily apply to pharmacy practice.

Firstly Sir Liam Donaldson, Chairman of the National Patient Safety Agency commented on his own visit to the University of Michigan Health Centre who have been looking at the effects of an open policy to medical errors over the last decade (which was the focus of the previous episode of this programme). He said one thing he noticed that was very different was the training that was given to staff on how to talk to patients about the errors that had been made with their care. He also noted that the support that was provided to the patient and the family was much more than just an apology that they stayed without them throughout the whole process. In terms of our work into mental workload, the emphasis would definitely have to consider both how to train pharmacists to avoid errors, but also how to deal with them if they did happen (especially if they happened because of mental overload).

Next, a representative from the National Reporting and Learning Service talked about how the approach to errors has changed in UK healthcare over the last few years. How she felt that the daily reports (e.g. before staff started their shift on a ward) had changed to include a focus on situations or patient issues that had the potential to lead to errors being made. Again this could easily be applied to pharmacy practice (this may be especially useful for locum pharmacists).

By contrast Peter Walsh CEO of Action Against Medical accidents painted a much bleaker picture of our healthcare system today. He spoke about a case his organisation has been dealing with where the errors that had been made in a young man’s care was covered up. This young man died because of these errors, and at the time the family were made aware that some errors had been made but they were not given the full story and shockingly neither was the coroner. Peter Walsh said that cover-ups were still tolerated in our health system and that this needed to change. I agree with this, but for this to happen I think we need to implement Sir Donaldson’s observation that healthcare professionals need to be trained and supported in how to be open with patients when errors occur.

For me, it is so exciting that these programmes have been aired in the last couple of months. Pharmacy is making a huge step at the moment to changing the safety culture and for that to happen the NHS needs to be making that step too, because ultimately the pharmacy profession works within the culture of the other healthcare services and systems in the UK. The fact that this is being talked about now, gives me hope that healthcare as a whole is moving towards this change in culture…but we shall see what happens.

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