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GPs encouraged to develop ‘less haphazard’ approach to patient safety

By Nigel Praities

Patients are being put at risk because GPs are paying ‘only scant regard' to the root causes of safety incidents in their practices, according to a top NHS manager.

Dr Robert Varnum, an associate in the safer care team at the NHS Institute for Innovation and Improvement, said many practices are ‘suffering from learned helplessness' when comes to improving patient safety.

In the past year, GPs have been repeatedly criticised for their low reporting rates of patient safety incidents, and this latest attack was published by Dr Varnum ahead of a patient safety debate hosted on the NHS Institute for Innovation and Improvement website later this week.

Dr Varnum said primary care was becoming increasingly complex, but the ‘discourse' on patient safety remained focused on ‘single unsafe acts committed by individual professionals'.

‘GP practices in England and Wales receive incentives to report and learn from patient safety incidents. However, the quality of the thinking and learning involved varies widely between practices, with only scant regard paid to root causes in many cases.'

‘Many GP practices appear to be suffering from learned helplessness when it comes to improving patient safety,' he said.

Dr Varnum said GP practices should develop a ‘less haphazard' approach to patient safety, using tools such as a 360 degree patient safety appraisal and/or the trigger tool developed by the institute.

‘Taking a broader perspective on the nature and cause of patient safety incidents allows professionals and managers to seek more effective solutions,' he said.

Patient in waiting room

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