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Safer Systems, Cultures and Practices Theme: A focus on equity, diversity and inclusion

Update from the Safer Systems, Cultures and Practices Theme: A focus on equity, diversity and inclusion

In this blog, Dr Lauren Ramsey shares important plans within the safer systems, cultures and practices theme to focus on the equity, diversity and inclusion of approaches to 1) incident investigations and 2) safety improvement work. These are just two of three safety activities that will be explored within the theme.

Hello, I’m Dr Lauren Ramsey – Senior Research Fellow working within our Safer systems, cultures and practices theme of work. Our theme is led by Professor Jane O’Hara and Professor Carl Macrae, and supported by a brilliant team of contributing researchers including national and international collaborators, our Research Fellow (Charlotte Overton) and our Lay Leader (Pam Essler).



As you will see from our EDI strategy, one of the broad missions of the centre is to “embrace diversity and inclusiveness across the research continuum to develop solutions that make care safer for all”. Throughout this blog, I will describe important plans within our theme to focus on equity, diversity and inclusion specifically.

A little background information about our theme…

As a theme, for the first 18 months of the Patient Safety Research Collaboration (PSRC) we are focussed on exploring the multiple cultural, contextual and institutional factors that shape the conduct of three key safety activities within the health service:

– Responding to safety events

– Safety improvement work

– De-implementing safety practices.

For the purposes of this blog, I am only focussing in detail on two of those safety activities – responding to safety incidents, and safety improvement work.

Safety Activity 1 – Responding to safety events

We are keen to understand how this important activity is supported, as it is one of the cornerstones of safety management within healthcare. Here we will be drawing upon rich evidence generated from two key programmes of work:

1a) The Response Study

The Response study began in May 2022 and will end in July 2025. The aim is to understand, in real time, how the roll-out of new policy, the Patient Safety Incident Response Framework (PSIRF), happens across the NHS in England, and what impact it has.

PSIRF aims to support NHS organisations to be more flexible in the way they respond to safety events. One of the key changes to policy is that NHS organisations will no longer be required to investigate every event that results in harm, which is likely to have important effects. You can find out more about the Response study here.



1b) The Learn Together Study


The Learn Together study began in October 2019 and formally ended in June 2023. The aim was to develop and test new guidance for involving and engaging patients and their families in incident investigations.




Importantly, ‘co-design’ methods were employed throughout the study, meaning that everything was developed together with patient and family representatives, engagement leads, managers, healthcare staff, policy makers and other important stakeholders.

In 2023, final versions of the guidance were launched to support i) patients and families to be involved and engaged in patient safety incident investigations; and ii) investigators to involve and engage patients and families in patient safety incident investigations.









The guidance has been tested within health services, redesigned based on the evidence and incorporated into national policy – PSIRF. The guides complement each other, and support both engagement leads and patients and families through the same five-stage process.



The five-stage process has been designed to support organisations and engagement leads to undertake patient safety incident investigations, in ways that ultimately reduce compounded harm – that is, not the harm caused by the original safety incident, but the harm caused by the processes that follow. You can download the guidance, as well as a series of supporting videos, and explore the background evidence here.

Safety Activity 2 – Safety improvement work

In addition to safety incidents, we are keen to understand how patient safety culture emerges, and is influenced by, the implementation and sustaining of safety improvement. Importantly, it remains unclear how cultural practices, norms and assumptions interact and impact safety across complex organisational and care boundaries.

Given the well-documented focus on safety in maternity care over the last decade in the UK, we propose to use Practical Obstetric Multi-Professional Training (PROMPT) as a useful vehicle to explore safety culture and understand how safety is situated in the healthcare system in the context of maternity care.

The evidence-based PROMPT  approach was originally developed at Southmead Hospital Bristol in 2000, centering on effective multi-professional communication via innovative approaches, including ‘in situ’ simulation of obstetric emergency.

Since development, PROMPT  has been implemented and iterated in maternity units across the globe seeing significant improvements in some cases, but with varying successes in others.

To date, research has specifically explored the success of PROMPT at Southmead hospital which was identified as an example of positive deviance (Liberati et al., 2019; Lawton et al., 2014). PROMPT has also been evaluated across eight maternity units in Victoria, Australia, in which benefits were evidenced to a lesser extent (Shoushtarian et al., 2014) and explored the rollout of PROMPT  across Scotland, but found no effect in the clinical indicator Apgar (Appearance, Pulse, Grimace, Activity, and Respiration) test scores (Lenguerrand et al., 2020)

However, research is yet to evaluate, compare and contrast the wider contextual factors which influence the relative successes of the PROMPT approach across contexts and healthcare economies, and from a broad range of perspectives. This is an evidence gap we plan to address via an empirical study.

A focus on equity, diversity and inclusion when learning from incidents and improving safety

To kick start some of this work within our theme, we are advertising two fellowships via the Brad-ATTAIN scheme. The scheme is run by the University of Bradford and is specifically committed to addressing systemic inequality and disadvantages experienced by Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic staff and students.

As part of the fellowships we are keen to explore opportunities to enhance the equity, diversity and inclusivity of the current Learn Together guidance further. While the guidance sets the foundations for engagement leads to come together with patients and their families to truly understand them and their needs following safety incidents – we recognise that this will look different, for different people. Health care organisations may also need further guidance to provide more tailored support to communities of people in these sensitive circumstances.

In addition, we are also keen to explore the disproportionate effects of obstetric emergency in maternity care, for groups such as women with intellectual and developmental disabilities, and for  Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic women, and how that can inform the setup and delivery of our study.

What next?
By developing a better understanding of fundamental issues related to these key safety activities, and via the lens of safety equity, we will develop a clearer and practically-grounded understanding of the wider cultural processes. This will then be used to develop a framework that can support organisations and regulators to design and implement the systems, structures and processes that enable strong and sustainable cultures of safety.

Get in touch

If you have any thoughts or questions about the plans shared here, or any other aspects of our theme, please do get in touch. You can drop me an email ( or contact me on X – previously Twitter (@laurenpramsey). You can also follow the wider PSRC account for regular updates (@YHPSRC).

Update from the Rethinking Safety Intelligence for Improvement Theme: Connecting to ‘Connected Bradford’: A Rich & Untapped Source of Patient Safety Intelligence?

Luke Budworth | Senior Research Data Analyst

Patient Safety Research Collaborative: Rethinking Safety Intelligence for Improvement theme

Hi, I’m Luke Budworth and I’m a data analyst for the Yorkshire & Humber Patient Safety Research Collaborative. I work in the Safety Intelligence theme and contribute data science expertise to all projects across our collaborative, including our cross-cutting theme on Safety Inequity.

Our main goal in safety intelligence is to create and test new safety intelligence solutions that improve patient safety across health and care systems. But what exactly do we mean when we refer to ‘safety intelligence’? And what might potential solutions look like?

As the first of our theme’s blogs, I aim to introduce readers to the background to our work, before outlining some of our ongoing projects – primarily in our integrated data sub-theme and related to our close collaboration with Connected Bradford (cBradford) – a large local data linkage project.

Broadly, working with Connected Bradford data, we aim to understand the potential for whole systems data for patient safety intelligence, explore inequalities in patient safety based upon analysis of linked data and patient safety outcomes, and focus on developing tools to manage the risk of deterioration for patients in primary care. However, this is just a small subset of our work and I encourage viewers to read more here.


Patient safety & safety intelligence

In 2019 NHS England published their Patient Safety strategy document, highlighting that: ‘we may fail to save around 11,000 lives a year due to safety concerns [and that] the extra treatment needed following incidents may cost at least £1b. ‘

 They also estimate that work to improve patient safety in the NHS can save up to 1,000 lives and £100m in care costs annually.  A key strand of their strategy relates to ‘Insight’: ‘to improve understanding of safety across the whole system by drawing intelligence from multiple sources of patient safety information.’ Identifying a clear need to improve patient safety intelligence.

Patient safety intelligence in the context of the NHS refers to the strategic use of data, information technology, and analytics to improve patient safety across healthcare settings. It encompasses the systematic collection, integration, and analysis of diverse data types, ranging from electronic health records (EHRs) to incident reports and patient feedback.

This approach enables healthcare professionals to identify and understand risks, spot trends, and pinpoint opportunities for enhancing patient care. Crucial in this process is the ability to extract actionable insights from the data, which can inform the development and implementation of more effective safety protocols and practices.


Connected Bradford

Bradford, where our research centre is based, is a post-industrial city in Northern England known for its diverse, multi-ethnic population, but also significant deprivation.

In 2007 the Born in Bradford cohort was established here, recruiting 30,000 participants for monitoring and linkage of both their education and health education records, leading to many high-profile findings and changes in policy and practice.

Extending the Born in Bradford project to represent the entire local population, the Connected Bradford Whole System Data Linkage Accelerator (cBradford) was developed.  Covering ~800,000 subjects, cBradford integrates pseudonymised data from five NHS Trusts, 86 GPs, and 200 schools, spanning health, education, social care, environment, and local government (Figure 1).



Figure 1: Connected Bradford overview

Notes. This gives a sense of the range of data-sources contained within the cBradford infrastructure. Note that the reported figures here fluctuate over time as access to more data is attained.

Investigating inequity in patient safety

From the patient safety intelligence perspective, cBradford represents huge potential.  In the Born in Bradford cohort for instance, linkage of educational and environmental data has revealed new insights into negative associations between educational attainment and pollution levels. One could argue this is a form of ‘epidemiological’ intelligence; by integrating data across a broader set of datasets, similar insights could be derived related to patient safety (Figure 2).


In line with the NHS patient safety strategy focus – and indeed, broader NIHR and PSRC strategies – one of main pieces of collaborative work with cBradford has been to begin to explore potential inequities in patient safety based on socio-economic indicators such as wealth, health, and ethnicity.


While still in early development, in close collaboration with our lay leader and academic and clinical collaborators, I have for instance begun trying to use cBradford secondary care data to match socio-economic indicators to standardised Patient Safety Indicator (PSI) codes; measures developed by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) to provide information on in-hospital complications and adverse events following surgeries, procedures, and childbirth. These PSIs come as standardised lists of codes in a format that can be matched to those in cBradford, and as such, frequencies can be cross-tabulated with indicators of deprivation.


Figure 2: Example potential patient safety research questions

Hyperthetical aim Method Example
Evaluate the effectiveness of new safety protocols Time Series Analysis Track reductions in incidents after implementing new interventions over time
Identify areas vulnerable to high rates of surgical complications Geospatial Analysis using GIS Map organisations with high post-surgical infections to pinpoint potential needs for regional training or resource allocation
Correlate socioeconomic status with healthcare safety incidents Network analysis Trace patterns between low-income areas and higher rates of medication errors
Understand the effect of environmental factors on patient safety outcomes Multilevel Hierarchical Modelling Analyse area level pollutants and individual level exposures as predictors of increased rates of post operative infections
Explore the link between crime, external stressors and patient safety. Survival analysis



Investigate if patients from high-crime areas have shorter intervals to hospital readmission post-surgery
Assess the impact of patient education on safety outcomes Difference-in-Differences analysis Measure reductions in medication mismanagement cases after initiating an educational intervention
Compare readmission rates related to social care provision Causal modelling/Propensity Score Matching Contrast readmission rates of elderly patients with post-hospitalisation home care against those without
Identify high-risk patient pathways through the healthcare system Latent Class Analysis Segment patient groups by their encounters with safety incidents to pinpoint areas in care delivery that consistently pose risk


Notes. By having a massive, interlinked dataset we can apply a range of cutting edge analytic technique to answer a broad range of patient safety-specific research questions.


Project example 2 | A tool for predicting primary care deterioration


A key benefit of cBradford is its scope to explore patient safety beyond acute care and across contexts.  We will therefore use linked primary and secondary cBradford data to investigate a previously established indicator of deterioration in primary care (Figure 3) – a key target of the NHS patient safety strategy.


By using variables across linked datasets, we believe we can build predictive models that can not only accurately predict deterioration as defined in Figure 3 above, but also a range of other patient safety indicators (including those we have yet to develop – see the next section).


Once we build and test our models to establish robustness, particularly across socio-demographic indicators, these could be a useful tool in a GPs toolkit for helping them identify and proactively treat vulnerable patients – assuming that the tool was integrated into the GPs workflow in a user-friendly and useful manner (which relates to our other sub-theme work focused on implementation and improvement).


Figure 3: Example novel patient safety indicator: ‘Missed’ deterioration

Notes. Here is an example of research where the authors have managed to interlink two data-sources – primary care and emergency care data – to capture a novel patient safety indicator: ‘missed’ acute deterioration. We are currently developing a risk prediction tool to predict this and other outcomes.


Project example 3 | A scoping review of research investigating ‘whole systems integrated data’ (WSID)


While previous published reviews of the literature have evaluated and found positive impacts on patient safety of improving interoperability of electronic health records; sharing of health information between organisations; and standardisation of health information technology, no review has aimed to scope attempts to answer myriad questions related to whole systems integrated data (as visualised in Figure 4) specifically. Nor have they attempted to outline how the interlinking of data across types can be used to generate predictive indicators of patient safety risk before they occur.


So aside from developing, assessing, and user-testing tools as that above, another arm of our work is conducting a scoping review (among several others for other sub-themes) aiming to assess how best to extract insights from whole systems integrated data (WSID) – and how to develop patient safety indicators from it.


Of course, it is one thing having novel indicators of patient safety events, and well-constructed mechanisms (e.g dashboards) for having these reach stakeholders (e.g. doctors). It is another to ensure that this information changes stakeholders’ decisions to improve patient outcomes. As such, as a theme, we are aiming to ensure maximal robustness of all stages of our tools from development to implementation.


Figure 4. Integrated data across a whole system? Conceptual literature model



Notes. The red line indicates where most research has focused: evaluating the effects of the introduction of some data exchange-orientated intervention on health or safety outcomes. The yellow area represents the scope of an example WSID, the grey areas methods of standardisation to improve WSID integration, and the black box to the right outlines some other potential related research focuses aside from outcomes.



Thank you for reading the first of our theme’s blogs. I hope I have given you some insight into our work and thinking at this stage of our development. The above only relates to a subset of our work, and while our sub-themes are highly inter-linked and overlapping, it was felt best to focus on one here for brevity. I encourage anyone interested in viewing more of our work to read the links above or get in touch with me on the email above.


Research Participation Experience

By Isabel Hague and Chloe Grindey –  Research Assistants, NIHR Yorkshire and Humber PSTRC

The Y&H PSTRC has been collaborating with Care Opinion to build a research community of people (patients, carers and other members of the public) who have written stories on the Care Opinion site. We have been trying to understand what people want when they are involved in research to help us plan for how we as researchers can meet these needs. We were also keen to find out if there are existing criteria for assessing the quality of research from a participant’s perspective.

As part of this process, we conducted a rapid review of the literature in this area. The full report can be found here. Here we report a brief summary.

We began by searching Google scholar with the appropriate terms including ‘communicating results to patients’, and ‘health research participation.’ After identifying seemingly relevant articles and searching their reference lists for additional research, thirty-two papers were added to a spreadsheet and subsequently refined by the authors and RL. We excluded those which discussed patient involvement in research design and the disclosure of individual clinical results (as Care Opinion would not be used for the recruitment of patients to clinical trials), which culminated in a final set of eleven papers for review, employing both quantitative and qualitative methods and of which we were confident were pertinent in answering the research questions.

Our analysis revealed strong evidence that patients want to know the findings of research they are involved in. Evidence was less consistent in indicating a preferred means of communication of these findings, although patients generally favoured individualised modes of contact. Literature indicating whether or not patients are interested in knowing the impact of the research was also minimal. In terms of what they want during their involvement, patients emphasised the importance of building a trusting and respectful relationship with the researchers, clear communication throughout the entirety of the investigative process, and quality of care that is at least consistent with standard healthcare practice.

There was an absence of literature that could directly inform the development of criteria to measure the quality of a patient’s research experience. However, we argue that such criteria could be inferred indirectly from the above research. For example, patients often reported an altruistic motivation for involvement in research, so it would make sense to conclude that being informed of the outcome or impact of their involvement would be desirable for them. Although none of the articles we identified included validated measures of patients participation experience, some asked questions of participants that might be useful in future surveys of this kind. For example, one asked if participants would recommend research involvement to a friend or family member and how useful the consent forms were in preparing them for their participation. Another paper used open-ended questions to assess involvement experience, such as ‘How did you find it talking about the issues in this study,’ or ‘How do you feel about research in this area.’ Such questions could be adapted into generalised involvement experience criteria.

This was a rapid review which has obvious limitations. If readers are aware of other literature that is directly relevant to our aims, please do get in touch with Rebecca Lawton at or @LawtonRebecca. We will be sure to acknowledge your contribution.


Developing a Care Opinion research community

By Professor Rebecca Lawton – Director of the NIHR Yorkshire and Humber PSTRC

The experiences of patients are increasingly being sought by health and social care organisations and, perhaps less frequently, used to make improvements.

These experiences come in different forms – as ratings on questionnaire items, informal feedback sought by staff or stories volunteered by patients and their families. Care Opinion provides an opportunity for the latter. This not-for-profit organisation provides a platform for unsolicited stories, reflecting both positive and negative experiences of care that are written and directed to the organisations providing that care.

This interest in the views and experiences of patients and families, and opportunities for their involvement in their care, has also been the subject of a growing number of research studies over the last decade, with broad categories of work including shared decision making, participatory forms of design such as experience based co-design, patient reported process and outcome measures.

In a new endeavour, the NIHR Yorkshire and Humber Patient Safety Translational Research Centre is collaborating with Care Opinion to bring these two agendas together, to create new opportunities for patients and carers to be involved in research.

In 2019 we asked over 500 people who had written a story on Care Opinion whether, in principle, they would consider volunteering to be part of a “research community”.

Of the 163 people who responded to this survey, the majority were very positive about being involved in research. Nearly all respondents felt that healthcare research was important (99%). They also agreed or strongly agreed (96%) that taking part in healthcare research improves healthcare and that Care Opinion authors may have experiences that would help research (96% agree or strongly agree).

Care Opinion authors also had some opinions on how they should be involved. They expressed a wish to be able to opt in or out of being asked to help (96%) and that they should be able to see the type of organisation they are being asked to work with, before deciding (97%). Knowing about the expected time commitment (90%) and knowing how their information is safeguarded 76%) was also important to respondents.

Using this information Care Opinion, with support from Yorkshire and Humber PSTRC, has enhanced its online platform so that story authors can be invited to join the research community and state their preferences for the kinds of involvement they would want.

Our plan for the next few months is to test this out with a small number of studies within the PSTRC which are currently recruiting patients as participants. We will continue to develop the system and once we are confident that patients and researchers are happy with the way things are working, we will begin to share this opportunity with other research groups who might also find it valuable.

Of course, there will be many discussions and perhaps some glitches along the way and this approach to participating in research won’t suit everyone. There will also be questions, as yet unanswered, about the representativeness of the research community on certain characteristics such as education, socio-economic status, age, gender and ethnicity. We will need to learn and share as we go along.

We are very excited about this new and open approach to widening research participation – and learning how we can offer people who have already shared online feedback additional ways to help improve health and social care services through research.

Patient Safety and COVID-19 – the importance of NIHR PSTRCs

Since 2012, the NIHR has supported research into patient safety through funding Patient Safety Translational Research Centres (PSTRCs). There are now three centres: Greater Manchester PSTRC, Imperial PSTRC and Yorkshire and Humber PSTRC. These centres operate as partnerships between a host NHS organisation and affiliated universities.

COVID-19 has brought to the fore the significance of patient safety like never before. Behavioural science has underpinned many of the most challenging safety concerns that have emerged during this time. This includes the effort to encourage the general public to follow government guidelines on physical distancing, the importance of staff wellbeing along with infection control in hospital. Understanding why people do what they do and promoting changes in behaviour are prominent features across the PSTRCs’ work.

The PSTRCs are dedicated to improving patient safety across specific areas of the NHS and social care. The centres are designed to be agile and responsive to emerging research priorities, focusing on applying novel approaches to unsolved questions. The PSTRCs proactively involve patients, gathering their experiences before creating interventions to improve specific patient safety concerns. New safety initiatives developed by PSTRCs are then tested or piloted in the appropriate healthcare setting such as a hospital, GP practice, care home or pharmacy.

The centres’ role in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic focuses on adapting existing work and building upon it to address some of the challenges facing the NHS. In addition, new research has been launched to understand and support the response to COVID-19.

An example from the Greater Manchester PSTRC is the launch of a study that looks at the mental health of survivors of COVID-19 as well as the general population within Greater Manchester including those with lived experience of homelessness. Another example is the roll out nationally of a digital triage system for use by GPs which had been previously designed by researchers within the Safety Informatics team based at the Greater Manchester centre.

Yorkshire and Humber PSTRC is exploring how healthcare organisations, such as hospitals and community pharmacies, have adapted operations to respond safely to the COVID-19 threat. It is also exploring the emotional support needs of healthcare staff and researching the impact of COVID-19 on people’s decisions to seek emergency healthcare.

Imperial PSTRC is assisting the WHO with guidance on medication safety during the pandemic and has launched a study looking at the impact of COVID-19 on digital technology in primary care. In addition, the centre is supporting the REal-time Assessment of Community Transmission (REACT) study, a national, Imperial-led programme investigating Covid-19 prevalence and the use of home testing.

The centres also recognise that this is a critical time for increasing the amount of research undertaken to support the NHS. Examples of this are developing online learning opportunities for those working in healthcare, online support communities and resources, and creating virtual research communities to allow work to continue even when face to face research isn’t possible.

The centres each focus work across specific themes* which span behavioural science, mental health, patients and carers, medication safety, transitions of care between healthcare settings, and digital interventions including designing dashboards and Artificial Intelligence. These themes are well placed to address the impact of COVID-19 on the wellbeing of the workforce, the resilience of specific areas of healthcare, the role patients and carers are playing in patient safety at this time, and access to healthcare by specific groups of patients such as those with lived experience of homelessness.


Read more about the work of Yorkshire and Humber PSTRC in this blog from the Centre Director, Professor Rebecca Lawton and Centre Manager Dr Beth Fylan –


Find out how the Imperial PSTRC involves people in its research, and how the Centre is adapting its involvement and engagement activities during COVID-19 in this blog:

To learn more about the work of the Greater Manchester PSTRC during the COVID-19 pandemic read Centre Director Professor Stephen Campbell’s thoughts in his latest blog:


For more information on the PSTRCs please visit:

Great Manchester PSTRC


Yorkshire & Humber PSTRC


Imperial –



Research themes:


GM PSTRC – Safety Informatics, Medication Safety, Marginalised groups (including two sub themes, Mental Health and Patients and Carers), Safer Care systems and Transitions of Care (including the Behavioural Science sub theme), and Safety in Marginalised Groups.


Yorkshire & Humber PSTRC – Patient Involvement in Patient Safety, Workforce Engagement and Wellbeing, Safe Use of Medicines, and Digital Innovation.


Imperial PSTRC – Safer Systems across the Continuum of Care, Partnering with Patients for Safer Care, Avoiding Deterioration in Complex Needs Patients, Enhancing the Safety of Medication and Technology, Improving Diagnostic Accuracy and Decision Making and Improving Diagnostic Accuracy and Decision Making.

Modelling winter pressures at the NHS-R conference

A conference report by Tom Lawton


Simulating the processes of a hospital can help us foresee challenges to which we can proactively respond. The Digital Innovation theme is working on simulations of how patients flow through the hospital to improve foresight relating to increased patient pressures, like what might be expected from the current COVID-19 virus. Our colleague, Tom Lawton, presented his work at a conference of analysts and statisticians associated with the National Health Service (NHS).

Who are the NHS-R community?

The NHS-R community is a network of NHS staff that use the R programming language to do healthcare analysis. The second NHS-R conference was a sell-out event, twice as large as 2018’s inaugural event, and represents an excellent opportunity for the community to come together and share ideas.


What is the ‘Winter Pressures’ project about?

The Winter Pressures project, supported by the Health Foundation, presents a novel data-driven modelling technique to simulate a virtual hospital. As patient-safety specialists, we are using state-of-the-art simulation techniques to improve our understanding of what might contribute to winter pressures, and hopefully uncover potential mitigations. What we learn from this work has implications for how we model patient flow in general, which could help us make informed preparations for events such as the COVID-19 outbreak.


How can simulation contribute to patient safety?

The more we know about what might happen, the better we can plan the best care. Simulation modelling can be used to safely test out scenarios/decisions and ideas to help alleviate unwanted circumstances, like the pressures caused by spikes in admissions. Modelling allows us to test even the strangest ideas without ever putting a patient at risk by making changes in a virtual hospital rather than a real one.

You can try something similar by playing the 1997 computer game Theme Hospital (or more recently, Two Point hospital, which I beta tested!). The game simulates a hospital in which your task is to treat patients against the clock. Our Winter Pressures project created a more complicated and specific simulation to understand how patient flow is affected by a variety of interventions.

For example, what happens if we run a “hotel” to assist patients who were clinically well but had stayed for social reasons? What is the effect of expanding the use of the diagnostic virtual ward, whereby patients are able to wait at home but have their investigations prioritised as if they were in the hospital?

– Image sourced from


How is the Digital Innovation theme making use of simulation for safety?

Our hospital simulation can be scaled up from a single ward to model an entire hospital at once. We have released the computer code in the hope that we can drive further use of this powerful technique in the NHS.

As part of the NHS-R conference, I led two workshops on simulation modelling using r-simmer. These sold out quickly, demonstrating how much interest there is in doing this kind of work in the NHS. We started with a basic model of an Intensive-Care Unit using more traditional techniques and built it up until it was fully data-driven.

It was difficult for those not already versed in R programming and what is known as Discrete Event Simulation. This showed the need for further training in simulation modelling and we are already in discussions about setting up training so more people can learn how to use these powerful techniques.


The importance of sharing for safety

These kinds of conferences are extremely important to allow projects like this to “touch base” with others, and ensure that the outputs are useful both in terms of what is needed in the NHS, and what can drive the state-of-the-art without being too complex to use. They also serve as a great opportunity to promote the benefits of this kind of improvement work, so it can be used across the NHS for patient benefit. Safety is a property of our healthcare systems so it can only be ensured through healthy and effective connection and communication between us all.


How can I get involved?

We in the Digital Innovation theme would like to know what healthcare project ideas you might have that could benefit from event simulation. Let us know in the comment section below.

And don’t forget to tell us how you get on running your own Theme Hospital.





The Winter Pressures project is part of the Health Foundation’s Applied Analytics programme. The Health Foundation is an independent charity committed to bringing about better health and health care for people in the UK.

The role of translational patient safety research during the COVID-19 crisis

By Dr Beth Fylan and Professor Rebecca Lawton

Over the past weeks we have witnessed the raised profile of health research and the fundamental role it is has in addressing the international crisis caused by COVID-19.  Health research organisations around the world have rallied to focus on identifying treatments and vaccines to aid prevention, recovery, save lives and enable societies to return to near-normal functioning. The hugely important role of behavioural science in understanding how best to persuade and support the general population to play their part has also been evident throughout. In the UK, the Government has placed its financial clout behind vaccine development and clinical trial centres are galvanised in establishing an evidence base to help clinical decision making. The RECOVERY trial established by the University of Oxford, for example, is currently testing a range of potential treatments for COVID-19 in 170 sites, including our own Bradford Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust.

Beyond this crucial, clinically focused work, applied research groups such as ours have been considering how their disciplinary expertise can contribute to benefit the healthcare system at this time. NIHR Patient Safety Translational Research Centres occupy a unique space in national healthcare research. Our role is to explore concepts, theories and methods that may have a role in increasing the safety of care but have not yet been developed or fully exploited. In short, we ‘aim to turn patient safety discoveries into practice’.1 We translate through developing new knowledge and understanding, or skills and tools which can be used or tested further.The commitment to funding such exploratory research is one of the reasons why the UK is at the forefront of health research internationally, recognising that innovation is key to enhancing the benefits gained from decades of work improving the safety of care.

We have come a long way in the UK since the publication of the report An Organisation with a Memory in 2000 3 in understanding the extent and nature of unintended harm to patients. Whilst the NHS has made great strides to eradicate many major of causes of harm to patients, such as wrong-site surgery and retained foreign object post-surgery (often called the ‘biggies’ of patient safety), harm is still prevalent (estimated to affect one in 20 patients).4 We have recognised the need in tandem to explore different ways of improving care.

Early translational research offers a route into these improvements and PSTRCs are a crucible for ideas yet untried and untested. Like others during this time of crisis, we find we have a role to play in the ongoing effort and the opportunity to adapt our work to address some of the challenges the NHS – and the public as a whole – faces. This means that, while some of our studies have been paused to reduce staff and patient burden, we can adapt quickly to the COVID-19 challenge by refocussing our early translational research where it can potentially bring benefits.

For example, our ongoing portfolio of work using resilient healthcare theory has given us the building blocks of a study to monitor and understand organisational response to the crisis. Similarly, our work to understand the impact of healthcare staff wellbeing and emotions in teams on care quality has enabled us to launch resources to support them given the unprecedented conditions that staff are working under. We are also adapting current studies in order to understand how patients and the public are supporting the health system by staying safe or why, in some instances, they may be staying at home, rather than seeking care if their health is deteriorating.

Having opened up new areas of enquiry based on our learning from previous work, we hope the findings from these studies will contribute to the growing knowledge of how we work together to respond to a patient safety crisis on a grand scale as well as how safety can be maintained when the norms and rules for delivering the service no longer work.

All us who have worked in health research for many years are deeply impressed, not only by the speed of the response of the academic and clinical research community to understanding this disease, but also to national bodies – such as the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) and the Health Research Authority – which have swiftly adapted processes to agree funding for research studies, give due oversight to their protocols and approve them. We hope that collectively we can generate an organisational memory for working in a crisis that will help us think differently about safety in the future.

And, finally, we remain grateful for the extraordinary work of our frontline NHS, social care and key worker colleagues in tackling the COVID-19 crisis.



  1. National Institute for Health Research. £17 million invested in NIHR Patient Safety Translational Research Centres. 13 February 2017.
  2. Aronson J. When I use a word . . . Defining translational research. BMJ Opinion 2017.
  3. Department of Health. An organisation with a memory: report of an expert group on learning from adverse events in the NHS. London: The Stationery Office, 2000.
  4. Panagioti M, Khan K, Keers RN et al. Prevalence, severity, and nature of preventable patient harm across medical care settings: systematic review and meta-analysis. BMJ 2019; 366 :l4185


Testing and evaluating the Patient Wellness Questionnaire for Paediatrics

By Dr. Abigail Albutt

The current COVID-19 pandemic highlights just how important the timely recognition of, and response to, deteriorating patients in hospital is. Not only that, but patients and their families are being asked to monitor deterioration themselves at home and only use healthcare services if essential. In other words, patients and families are being asked to be involved in monitoring their condition and escalating their care in a manner never seen before.  In this blog, I describe a project our team has been working on for the past two years to support patient and family involvement in monitoring and identifying clinical deterioration.

Patients and families are likely to have unique knowledge of their norms and may intuitively sense if their or their relative’s condition is deteriorating. This has been especially well documented in paediatric deterioration where parents recognised signs that their child was deteriorating before healthcare staff. We wanted to understand how the expertise of patients and their families may be best utilised to support staff in the early detection of, and response to, clinical deterioration.

After speaking to healthcare staff about this topic, one suggested way to involve patients was to routinely ask them about how well they are feeling and if they feel their wellness has changed. Staff could then record patients’ views alongside routinely collected physiological measurements like temperature and blood pressure. To capture patient perceptions of changes in their wellness, we developed the Patient Wellness Questionnaire (PWQ; see below) in collaboration with patient representatives and healthcare assistants.


Initial small-scale findings were promising, and highlighted that patients were willing and able to respond to the PWQ when asked during routine observation (Click here for the full paper). Most interesting of all, the study showed that patients may be aware of changes in signs and symptoms, making them feel more unwell, before abnormalities are visible in their physiological measurements. This suggests that capturing patients’ views of their wellness using PWQ may give staff useful information to enable them to identify deteriorating patients earlier, and intervene sooner, reducing the negative impact of further deterioration (Click here for the full paper).

In 2019, I was lucky enough to receive an NIHR funded Short Placement Award for Research Collaboration (NIHR SPARC award) to spend some time in another part of the NIHR infrastructure, and conduct a research project in the area of patient deterioration. During my placement, I was hosted by Dr. Damian Roland, Consultant and Honorary Associate Professor in Paediatric Emergency Medicine at Leicester Royal Infirmary (LRI) Children’s Emergency Department. Dr. Roland has a wealth of experience and expertise in the identification of sick children in acute care settings and use of scoring systems. This was an ideal pairing to expand the research conducted within my PhD and explore using routinely recording patient-reported wellness in other populations and settings.

Parents and carers know their child best and may be well placed to recognise changes in their signs and symptoms that may need fast medical intervention. The PWQ for paediatrics aimed to capture parents (or children where appropriate) perceptions of their child’s wellness and was asked by nurses during initial assessment when parents and children first presented to the Emergency Department. Over 500 parent/child responses were captured and analysis is underway to explore how their views on their child’s wellness relate to physiological measures and outcomes for the child. This will help us to understand whether parent’s perceptions can support early recognition and response to deterioration in the Emergency Department.

The placement allowed me to gain experience working with doctors and nurses in a paediatric emergency department, an applied health setting that I have never had the chance to conduct research in before. Being in the department over a number of weeks allowed me to truly immerse myself in the setting and I was able to observe the data collection process during assessments with parents and children to have contextual knowledge of the data, gaining an in depth understanding of whether the PWQP could be embedded, and if it could enhance current practice.

Thank you to the NIHR Academy for funding my placement, and to Dr. Roland and the staff at LRI Children’s Emergency Department for making this research possible.




Stopping medicines: Re-designing the process using Experience-based Co-design

By Dr Janice Olaniyan, Dr Iuri Marques, Dr Daisy Payne, Mr George Peat

In a previous blog entry, we shared our experience of conducting user (patient and supporting peers, who may support patients’ medicines use) and practitioner interviews, to understand the process of stopping medicines in primary care. After these interviews, we used Experience-based Co-design to determine how we can improve this service.

What is Experience-based Co-design?

Experience-based Co-design(EBCD)1 is a process in which patients and staff come together in different sessions to identify priorities to improve services. It is a unique Quality Improvement (QI) approach, which enables staff, patients and carers (or other service users) to jointly reflect on their experiences of a service and work together to identify and implement priorities for improvement.2 Before we began organising our EBCD sessions, we conducted qualitative interviews with patients, supporting peers and healthcare professionals to understand their views and experiences of having medicines stopped (for more information about this part of our research, please see our previous blog here).

Why did we use Experience-base Co-design?

We feel that involving those who have experienced stopping medicines that may no longer be appropriate for them is the best way to ensure we succeed in improving the process of stopping medicines. We can only fully understand and redesign services through real-life experiences of what works and what doesn’t work, and only service users and service providers can provide this insight. The EBCD approach differs from other service improvement techniques in that it is a partnership, with shared leadership between patients and professionals1, which focuses on patient and staff experiences and emotions through storytelling, to identify key opportunities for improvement.2

What exactly did we do?

Patients and their supporting peers were interviewed about their experiences of reducing or stopping their medicines. These interviews were video recorded, and the footage was captured and edited into a short film that summarised their experiences. We then held a number of workshops, which brought patients, their supporting peers, and clinicians (General Practitioners, Nurses, and Pharmacists) together in a neutral space that allowed for an open discussion about the process of reducing or stopping medicines. The short film, capturing patients’ and supporting peers’ views, was shown to the people that attended the workshops to help generate further discussions about experiences of reducing or stopping medication. After the workshops, an event was held to celebrate the contribution of everyone who was involved in the workshops.

What value did EBCD add to our research?

Conducting our EBCD sessions gave us the opportunity to take patients’, supporting peers’ and clinicians’ views into consideration to develop the ideal consultation process for stopping medicines in primary care. Participants came together to reflect on the real-life stories recorded during interviews, building on these to identify patient-centred priorities for improving the consultation and process of stopping medicines in primary care. Patients, their supporting peers and healthcare professionals told us that they enjoyed taking part and valued the opportunity to take an active role in improving the process of stopping medicines.

Where will we go from here?

We have heard what patients, supporting peers and healthcare professionals had to say and will use the information they gave us to redesign the process of stopping medicines in primary care before testing it.

More information

For more information about EBCD and our top five tips for involving Patients and members of the public in developing these sessions, please have a look at our newsletter article here.



  1. Donetto S, Tsianakas V, Robert G. Using Experience-based Co-design (EBCD) to improve the quality of healthcare: mapping where we are now and establishing future directions. London: King’s College; 2014.
  2. The Point of Care Foundation. EBCD: Experience-based co-design toolkit. Accessed from Date accessed 04/02/2020 at 17:00 pm



Digital Innovation for Patient Safety, on the international stage

The International Society for Digital health was launched this year and the Digital Innovation theme are intricately involved to contribute the patient-safety perspective.

On the 25th September 2019 at the University of Leeds, the International Society for Digital Health had its official UK launch. The launch was attended by over 70 international delegates from as far as Indonesia, China, India, the Gulf and neighbouring EU countries. Members of the Digital Innovation theme were not only in attendance but our theme Lead, Owen Johnson, hosted the event; Moreover, Owen is a founding member and part of the society’s Executive Committee.


Leading the way on the international stage

In June 2019, Owen Johnson was invited to speak at the International Society for Digital Health 2019 conference, with a talk entitled “Patient safety: the opportunities and risks of using AI in medical diagnosis and care”. At the event, he spoke about the motivation for a patient-safety agenda in healthcare information technology. In part, the motivation arises from the consequences of a mixture of over-reliance and under-utilisation of automation. It is concerns like these that the Digital Innovation theme are addressing in our Micronarratives project, wherein we are asking how real-time intelligence is created via human sensor networks.

The difficulty in finding the balanced path of appropriate use of IT and artificial intelligence is somewhat explained by the V, and T challenges that Owen spoke about during his invited talk, at the June conference. The V challenge refers to the five Vs of big data:

  • Volume – How do we safely handle the very large amount of healthcare data being produced?;
  • Velocity – How do we safely handle the frequency with which healthcare data is updated and made obsolete?;
  • Variety – How do we safely handle the diversity of data types, formats, and delivery?;
  • Variability – How do we safely handle the differences in the way healthcare care is generated and used?; and
  • Value – How do we safely filter and prioritise the best healthcare data?.

The T challenge refers to safely handling the temporal effects of intervening with healthcare information technologies. Work by McLintcok et al. in 2014 showed how rates of coding and prescribing for incentivised conditions suggest anomalous prevalence and incidence during incentivised periods, but tend to reset to baseline values. It can be inferred that the timing of digital healthcare interventions can have anomalous effects with varying transience. These factors are front-and-centre for us in the Digital Innovation theme as we study the design and implementation of clinical decision-support tools (see Very Smart Cancer RATs).


What next for digital innovation of patient safety?

With these challenges in mind, the Digital Innovation theme continue to work in the overlap of digital technology, healthcare service, and safety science. Our member’s involvement in discussions at the international level facilitates collaboration and innovation for the promotion of patient safety in healthcare. The increasing digitisation and automation of society requires us to actively engage with the leading edge of our progress, and to take pre-emptive action to ensure our collective safety and effectiveness.


How can I get involved?

If you would like to keep up to speed or get involved with the International Society for Digital Health, join the LinkedIn open forum at

You can also apply for membership by checking out