Bradford researchers develop online support for healthcare workers

Researchers in Bradford have developed a unique range of online support to help the ‘second victims’ of patient safety incidents: clinicians and healthcare workers.

When things go wrong in the NHS the first priority is always to support the patient affected and their family.

But this sometimes means that the needs of healthcare workers at the centre of patient safety incident investigations are almost forgotten, even when the impact can have far-reaching consequences for the person and their organisation.

Patient safety incidents are any unintended or unexpected incident, such as a medical error or system failure, which could have, or did, lead to harm for a patient receiving healthcare.

Now health researchers from the Yorkshire Quality and Safety Research Group and the Improvement Academy, based at the Bradford Institute for Health Research, which is part of Bradford Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, have launched a website with a wealth of resources to support clinicians and organisations.

Supported by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Yorkshire and Humber Patient Safety Translational Research Centre, the website: aims to help second victims identify the types of support they may need and signpost them towards that help. It also features some powerful personal stories of how incidents have affected staff emotionally and professionally.

Based on evidence gathered from many studies into the impact of patient safety incidents on the staff involved, and their personal experiences, the website also encourages a safety culture where such incidents are managed in a way that enables learning and improves systems.

Effect on home life

Previous research has found that it is common for patient safety incidents to have an effect on clinicians and healthcare workers’ work or home life, causing them to lose confidence, have problems sleeping and even experience symptoms similar to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Project lead Iona Elborough-Whitehouse said that even when an incident is caused by systems failing rather than human error, staff still feel the emotional impact of the incident.

“We recognise fully the enormous impact that patient safety incidents can have on patients and their families, and supporting the patient and their family is always the NHS’ priority,” she explained.

“However, there’s also a very real need to consider the impact on staff involved in these incidents, so their wellbeing is supported through the process of investigation and subsequent action an organisation needs to take.

“We need to remember that healthcare workers are human too and being part of an incident which results in harm to a patient can leave them traumatized and often feeling victimised. Many people feel personally responsible for what happened, as though they have failed the patient, and this leads to them questioning their professional abilities.

“That’s why the new website will hopefully fill a gap and provide much-needed expert guidance to individuals and organisations which are supporting staff through this process and beyond.”

The research team hopes the website will be used by healthcare professionals who are second victims themselves, their managers and other teams including HR, risk management, occupational health and organisational development.