Skip to main content

New framework provides welcome focus on patient safety in the NHS

It's often thought that the main reason patients who have been harmed whilst under the care of the NHS contact solicitors is to obtain financial compensation. However, in many cases this purpose is much lower down on the patient’s list of priorities.

Instead, individuals find themselves resorting to the legal route because they are unsatisfied with the way the NHS has handled an investigation into their care, or the outcome of the investigation has left them with unanswered questions. Often they remain concerned that the system has not changed, or staff involved have not learned from the incident, meaning there is a significant risk a similar incident could happen in the future and lead to harm to others.

Patient Safety Incident Response Framework (PSIRF)

The Patient Safety Incident Response Framework (PSIRF) was introduced in August 2022. The framework encourages a move towards responding to incidents in a more consistent and proportionate way. There is a new emphasis on patient safety, which is noticeably incorporated into the title of the framework, as well as a move away from the more discouraging term ‘serious incidents’.

NHS England’s summary of the framework is that it 'sets out the NHS’s approach to developing and maintaining effective systems and processes for responding to patient safety incidents for the purpose of learning and improving patient safety.'

It's described as a 'significant shift' in the way the NHS responds to safety incidents and, in particular, is designed to increase focus on understanding how incidents happen.

The framework encourages a more compassionate approach which is likely to benefit everyone involved, including the patient, their families and NHS staff.

A welcome change for patients

We often see incidents which haven't been investigated as effectively as they could have been due to a culture of fear and blame within the NHS, which can lead to system errors being redefined as individual error.  This can reduce staff engagement and impact on the effectiveness of the investigation, the satisfaction of the patient, and any chances of implementing positive change.

The renewed focus on patient safety and openness will be welcomed by patients, particularly where this leads to positive change and, in turn, reduces harm to others. There is an opportunity to express concerns at an early stage, ensuring that the issues which are important to the patient are addressed. An investigation under the new framework is also likely to lead to patients feeling more engaged in the process and the outcome.

Benefits for the NHS

NHS staff are more likely to engage with an open process which doesn't encourage blame, and which helps investigators to understand the context in which a patient safety incident occurred. It should also lead to effective learning from safety incidents translating into fewer similar incidents, and a reduction in patient harm.

In addition, particularly in low harm incidents, where a full and compassionate investigation has taken place, this will reassure the patient that their concerns have been addressed, change has been implemented, and in some circumstances they will not resort to legal proceedings.

What's next?

The framework is now being adopted across most parts of the NHS, including hospitals providing emergency and acute care, maternity services and mental health services. The expectation is that the transition should be completed by autumn this year.

Find out more about Irwin Mitchell's expertise in supporting people and families affected by care issues at our dedicated medical negligence section.