World Patient Safety Day 2020: A safe environment for health workers is vital for patient safety

World Patient Safety Day 2020 banner
Assistant Director of Strategy and Partnerships

17 September 2020 is the second World Patient Safety Day, marked by the World Health Organization, its international partners and many organisations around the world. 

This year’s theme is health worker safety. The campaign will focus on the need for a safe working environment for health workers as a prerequisite to patient safety: safe health workers, safe patients.

Creating a safe environment for speaking up

We know that health workers do the best job they possibly can. But sometimes things go wrong and staff or patients may need to raise a concern or make a complaint. 

To improve patient safety, it is vital to be open about these mistakes and learn from them to make sure they don’t happen again.

A culture that values patient safety is one where staff are empowered to speak up, and where complaints and feedback are viewed as an opportunity to learn and improve. 

Good complaint handling is not about blame and “pointing the finger” but rather learning how to support health workers to provide the best and safest service they can.

A single set of standards to help staff feel safe

To do this effectively and in a way that both health workers and patients feel safe and protected, we need a single, consistent set of standards to handle complaints and concerns. This is why we have worked with partners from across health and social care to create a new Complaint Standards Framework for the NHS.

The Standards build on our My Expectations report – a user-led vision of what people expect to see, feel and hear when making a complaint. They cover both the needs of those who complain and those complained about. This includes staff who wish to speak up about an incident and those who are the subject of a complaint.

Exemplary complaint handling in the NHS means that everyone involved in complaints is supported throughout. Both patients and staff have a clear understanding of the process and possible outcomes, and know where to go to for help and advice. 

Good complaint handling provides a safe environment

A complaint can be stressful and cause anxiety for everyone involved, including healthcare professionals. NHS staff must be fully supported throughout the complaints process so that it doesn’t damage their confidence, or trigger mental health or other problems. Good complaint handling should minimise any negative impact.

The Complaint Standards Framework is about creating an open, transparent and safe environment that promotes constructive feedback and supports staff and patients to speak up. It provides a system for identifying and sharing learning across the NHS.

It highlights the changes that are required at leadership level to invest in time, training and resources so that staff are supported to speak up and deal with complaints in a professional and consistent way.

By setting out a structure to professionalise NHS complaint handling, the new Standards will help staff on the frontline feel safer when speaking up. It will also support them to embrace learning from complaints. This will contribute to a safer patient experience and ultimately save lives.