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March 2019

Supporting the ‘second victims’ of patient safety incidents

Researchers at our PSTRC have developed a unique range of online support to help the ‘second victims’ of patient safety incidents: clinicians and healthcare workers.

Patient safety incidents are any unintended or unexpected incident, such as a medical error or system failure, which could have, or did, lead to harm for a patient receiving healthcare. When things go wrong in the NHS the first priority is always to support the patient affected and their family. But this sometimes means that the needs of healthcare workers at the centre of patient safety incident investigations are almost forgotten, even when the impact can have far-reaching consequences for the person and their organisation.

Now health researchers from the PSTRC, the Yorkshire Quality and Safety Research Group and the Improvement Academy, based at the Bradford Institute for Health Research, have launched a website with a wealth of resources to support clinicians and organisations.

The project is focused on how clinicians are supported through these events; not because their needs are greater than the patient or their family’s – far from it, but because the impact of the event on the clinician has a knock-on effect on the care they are able to give their next patient. One clinician described it in this way:

It hit me for the first time that I’ve had something actually go wrong, then that opened a door to me imagining, second guessing everything all the time, imagining things going wrong. And how you can have an effect on a person’s life if something does go wrong. I think that’s what really hit me, and knocked my confidence for that time.

This clinician, with others, has told their story by film on the website. Users of the website have found these films helpful, and several have offered to share their own experiences. It’s been so useful for the project team to hear the real experiences of people who will be able to benefit from using the website, and to recognise the impact that making a mistake has on the clinician and their colleagues. In particular this story stands out because when the incident was investigated the clinician was found to be not at fault, due to a communication error about what needed to be done.

These stories clearly resonate with other clinicians, but importantly when clinicians talk about mistakes it enables learning; in this instance the way that treatment plans are communicated around the hospital could be improved, reducing the risk of a recurrence for another patient.

To hear these stories go to