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Patient safety in the NHS

About patient safety

The NHS treats more than one million patients every 36 hours. But on rare occasions, things can go wrong.

Patient safety is about working to prevent errors in healthcare that can cause harm to patients.

Harm in this context means injury, suffering, disability or death.

The errors that occur in healthcare are rarely the fault of individuals, but are usually the result of problems with the systems they work in.

Regardless, NHS patients should be treated in a safe environment and be protected from avoidable harm. 

Patients should be treated in clean surroundings, with a minimal risk of infection. The equipment used should be in good working order and used in the correct way. 

Medicines should be given on time and in the correct doses. Tests, investigations and treatments provided to patients should be appropriate for their condition, with procedures performed correctly and in a timely and effective way.

Care should be delivered in a co-ordinated way by competent healthcare staff who work in an effective team. This includes communicating patients' needs effectively.

Note: some treatments or drugs are expected to cause harm, such as chemotherapies or certain drug therapies. Rare allergic reactions, for example, are "expected" in the sense that they will happen to a very small number of patients – we just can't predict which ones. Those cases are not considered patient safety issues. 

How is patient safety checked?

Patient safety improvement is about tackling the causes of errors in care that can come from problematic working environments or insufficient training and support for staff.

Healthcare organisations like hospitals are complex organisations. Most hospitals have many excellent departments, wards and staff. But even those with the very best reputations will still demonstrate problems in patient safety in some areas.

This is why the Care Quality Commission (CQC) inspection teams visit hospitals regularly. The judgements of CQC inspections are the most authoritative view of the safety of healthcare in the NHS.

Learn more about CQC hospital inspections.  

The NHS also has a national patient safety team whose job is to collect information about what can go wrong in the NHS, learn more about why things go wrong, and then use this understanding to support the NHS to become safer.

For information, visit the Patient Safety Hub on  the NHS England website.

Patient safety data on NHS Choices

On this website, you can compare information related to patient safety in hospitals. Simply use the Services near you facility and enter a postcode. On the results page, select "safety" from the dropdown menu. 

Hospitals are ranked in relation to:

  • their CQC rating
  • their management of infection control and cleanliness
  • their assessment of patients for blood clots
  • their responsiveness to national patient safety alerts
  • whether their staff would recommend them

Some hospitals do not have data for every indicator, shown as n/a (data not available). This can be because:

  • the hospital is not required to report on a particular indicator
  • the data isn't yet available
  • the hospital has not submitted data for this indicator

You can click on a hospital name and find out more about their patient safety. You can find more information about each safety indicator by clicking on the "i" information icon at the top of each indicator category.

My NHS data for better services

In addition to the data available on NHS Choices, you will find more patient safety data on the My NHS website.

How to raise concerns

If you are worried about the care provided to you or a loved one, you should raise concerns with the hospital first. Speak to staff on the ward or to your consultant. You may also get advice from the Patient Advice and Liaison Service (PALS) at the hospital.

If you don't know who is responsible for your care or you do not want to raise concerns with that person, you can contact your local clinical commissioning group (CCG) using the NHS complaints procedure. CCGs commission secondary care services such as hospital services and mental health services.

Page last reviewed: 18/10/2016

Next review due: 18/10/2019

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