Embedding Human Factors for NHS patient safety

Professor Sue Hignett in the Loughborough Design School says it’s possible to design out error in the health service…

One in 10 people in healthcare settings experience some form of harm, from trips and falls to surgery errors and incorrect drug prescription.

Much of this is due to poor design which can be addressed through Human Factors expertise – the science and profession which redesigns ‘systems’ and ‘things’ around human capabilities and limitations.

Until now, little has been done to embed this knowledge within health service safety, but a recent report from Health Education England’s Commission on Education and Training for Patient Safety brought Human Factors to the fore.

Improving Safety through Education and Training recommends education and training interventions to actively improve the safety of patients in the training of all healthcare workers.

It sets out the future of education and training for patient safety in the NHS over the next 10 years, making recommendations to Health Education England and the wider system.

The exciting part for us Ergonomists is that three of its 12 recommendations include Human Factors:

  • Develop and use a common language to describe all elements of quality improvement science and human factors with respect to patient safety
  • The content of mandatory training for patient safety needs to be coherent across the NHS… ’assess understanding of human factors…’’
  • Principles of human factors and professionalism must be embedded across education and training. Multi-professional human factors training should form part of the induction process for every new employee.

We now have a real chance to address the dysfunctional separation of safety systems for staff and patients, as I previously outlined in this BMJ paper.

At Loughborough we’re the leading UK university for Human Factors training. Our job now is to ensure the healthcare industry (and NHS) gets the ‘real deal’. By this, I mean training and professional input from qualified providers – the Chartered Ergonomists and Human Factors Specialists.

This is an exciting challenge and a great opportunity to make a significant contribution to improving the safety and wellbeing of patients and staff, and healthcare systems performance.

This is the focus of our forthcoming event on 3 May featuring a lecture on The Rise and Fall of Patient Safety by Professor Bob Wears – an emergency physician and Professor of Emergency Medicine at the University of Florida, and Visiting Professor in the Clinical Safety Research Unit at Imperial College London.

The event also includes a panel discussion titled Human Factors in healthcare: firefighting to culture change and featuring experts from academia, the NHS and the Chartered Institute Ergonomics & Human Factors.

Find out more about the University’s courses on Human Factors and Ergonomics for Patient Safety.

Hignett_Sue 2015-122x152Sue Hignett is Professor of Healthcare Ergonomics and Patient Safety at Loughborough University.

She is a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Ergonomics and Human Factors, Certified European Ergonomist and Chartered Physiotherapist.

Prof. Hignett has published over 150 peer-reviewed papers on a wide range of human factors and ergonomics issues including hospital and ambulance design, emergency response, medical device evaluation, staff wellbeing and patient safety.

She has received research funding from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), Engineering and Physical Science Research Council (EPSRC), Department of Health (UK), EU (Horizon 2020) and industrial sponsors.

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