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Patient safety

NIHR PSTRCs Symposium on the future of Patient Safety: Insights from PhD student attendees.

The three NIHR Patient Safety Translational Research Centres (PSTRC) hosted a joint symposium on the 16th June at the Queens Hotel in Leeds to discuss the future of patient safety research. The symposium was an extremely welcomed opportunity to see colleagues face-to-face and despite highlighting many shortcomings in the current landscape of patient safety, the atmosphere was vibrant with encouraging presentations that focused on three key themes: insight, involvement and improvement.

In the ‘Involvement’ session, we heard from Prof Bryony Dean Franklin, Prof Jane O’Hara and Prof Caroline Saunders. As a PhD student, it was great to hear about simple yet effective ways of collaborating with a diverse range of people, particularly groups we traditionally considered ‘hard-to-reach’ but are now understanding that with effective networking with organisations and meaningful engagement, are enthusiastic to be involved. At the end of this session, I felt encouraged that the future of patient safety research will incorporate understanding that to meet the needs of everyone, we need to involve them effectively. I felt empowered to use the techniques suggested by presenters in my own work.

The ‘Insight’ session was led by Dr. Lindsay Dewa from Imperial PSTRC, Dr. Richard Williams from Greater Manchester PSTRC and Prof. Rebecca Lawton from Yorkshire and Humber PTSRC. The session highlighted insight from patients, staff and health data taken from research carried out over the last five years across the PSTRCs. Insight from the following three areas of research was discussed:

– How to pragmatically and meaningfully involve patients and the public throughout the entire process of co-production.

– How electronic patient records stored in the Greater Manchester Care Record can be used to inform interventions to improve patient safety and enhance health research.

– The value of using staff intelligence to better understand problems such as ‘safety clutter’ to improve safety. Learning from staff experiences of previous harm to provide safety intelligence for improvement was also highlighted.

A highlight of this session was learning about the variety of inclusive and person-centred methods that we can use to gather insight from patients and staff to improve patient safety.

The ‘Improvement’ session was led by Dr Jonathan Benn from YH PSTRC, Dr Ana Luisa Neves from Imperial PSTRC and Professor Tony Avery from GM PSTRC. The overall theme was digitally enabled improvement and specifically socio-technical interventions in hospitals and general practice. Examples were the evaluation of a digital hospital command centre, the use of virtual primary care during the COVID19 pandemic and reducing patient harm from medication errors by identifying patients at risk using a pharmacist-led IT-based intervention. For me as a PhD student, the key highlight from this session was the range of research methods that was being used to explore, develop, implement and evaluate digital patient-safety interventions; ranging from systematic reviews and routine data, to ethnographic observations and qualitative interviews, as well as clinical trials and national training packages.

Key learning from the Symposium

Daisy Halligan (PhD Student)

  1. The need to respect unique individuality so that the healthcare system can work for all (Dr. Frances Healy).
  2. It was inspiring to hear the panel discuss what the future of patient safety research should focus on. Some ideas mentioned during the discussion included: tackling inequalities, including more patients and carers as lay researchers, making better use of routinely collected data and improving patient safety in ways other than implementing policies, guidelines and interventions.
  3. The Symposium poster competition was a fantastic opportunity to learn about the different research projects taking place across the three centres. I was really pleased to have won the poster prize for the Yorkshire and Humber PSTRC on a study that explored the barriers and facilitators to de-implementing low-value safety practices.

Caitlin Wilson (PhD Student)






  1. “Much has been accomplished in patient safety research, but much more needs to be done” (Dr Frances Healey)
  2. If we want to address inequality and inequity in patient safety research then we need to not only consider healthcare providers’ perspectives (freedom from harm) but also patients’ perspectives (“I feel safe”) (Professor Bryony Dean Franklin)
  3. Great opportunity to learn from and network with leaders in the field of patient safety research, as well as NHS organisations, including Dr Fiona Bell, Head of Research at Yorkshire Ambulance Service NHS Trust.

Emily Parker (PhD Student)

A particular highlight for me was seeing presenters from various disciplines make suggestions which rationalised some of my PhD work. For example, it was great to see staff wellbeing being emphasised and patient-centred approaches to clinical risk investigation being prioritised for future research. My three key takeaways from the day were:

  1. Continuing with a career in patient safety research means I will be able to foster strong relationships with communities, organisations and a wide range of people.
  2. Addressing inequalities for patients is impossible without addressing them for staff. This is a key area I am interested in, particularly the experience of non-clinical staff who have not received as much research attention but contribute greatly to patient safety.
  3. I have new ideas for how I can navigate recruitment of a diverse range of patients and staff, with Professor Caroline Saunders boosting my confidence in approaching and involving community organisations.

Overall, we thoroughly enjoyed the joint symposium. It was great to meet researchers from the other PSTRCs and catch-up with colleagues from Yorkshire & Humber. Seeing the artist’s impressions of the day was a particular highlight and a great example of how the key messages of a presentation can be clearly communicated in a really engaging way! The panel of patient safety experts who hosted the Q&A session left us all feeling enthusiastic and intrigued about where our career’s can take us in Patient Safety research. We can’t wait for the next opportunity to collectively meet again.

Symposium, Queens Hotel

Visual artist impression of the symposium