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The Welsh Approach to Patient Safety aspect of Health Policy in Comparison with other Countries in the United Kingdom
Wales is a country in the United Kingdom with a population above 3 million people (Wales Cymru, 2013). The majority of her people have a Celtic origin, and Wales is therefore regarded as a modern Celtic Nation. With a GDP adjusted for Purchasing Power Parity of more than $100 Billion, Wales is therefore a modern state, with a developed economy, advanced nation health policies and a completely developed public initiative to manage its health policy. The Welsh health care sector is managed by the National Health Service (NHS), a state owned body that oversees and implements healthcare activities. Gwasanaeth Iechyd Gwladol Cymru (GIG Cymru), is the public health system run by the Welsh Devolved government (NHS 2013).
With more than 90,000 staff, the Welsh NHS is the biggest public employer in Wales (Welsh Assembly Government 2011). With an annual budget upward of Pound7 billion, the Welsh healthcare system is under the Ministry for Health and Social Services, and encompasses medication as well as nursing and care (Welsh Assembly Government 2011). It would therefore be expected that , with its huge budget and solid infrastrutural and regulatory network, the welsh policy could meet the healthcare concerns, especially with regard to patient protection. Patient protection is a vital element in healthcare. It involves such items as personal information disclousure protection, protection of patient`s rights among other issues. Patient safety involves such areas as proper medication and hygiene, handover processes, operational procedures among others.
The aim of this paper will be to explore and critique the patient protection and safety aspect of the Welsh Healthcare Policy and compare it with that of England, another country in the United Kingdom. It will focus on such elements of patient protection as error reporting, the currently implemented policy of being open including challenges it is facing, as well as the posible implications of the implementation of the Francis Report.
A primary search was carried out using online databases such as the Wales Government website (Wales.com, nhswalesgovernance.com) CINAHL (Cumulative Index to Nursing and Allied Health Literature), Medline and Cochrane Library using the key terms health policy and patient safety. In this stage a total of 62,849 articles across all the databases were yielded. The search was refined by combining the two search terms (Health policy and Patient safety), ending up with a total of 424 articles. After narrowing down the search to the UK, the titles and abstracts from the articles identified by this search were read and inclusion criteria were used to determine suitability for the Wales and England which were published in English after 2005 were included. The exclusion criteria were: Non-English, Non-Primary research articles, articles in regard to Scotland and Ireland. Considering inclusion and exclusion criteria, six relevant articles to the subject were identified.
Wales Health History
The Welsh Healthcare provision policy is embodied in the Welsh Labor Manifesto 2011 under the element of provision of a 21st century healthcare (NHS, 2013). The healthcare system in wales is paid for from the taxes. Healthcare in Wales is largely publicly managed, but private institutions as well as providers of alternative treatments also provide chargable services.
The Welsh NHS is managed by seven Local Health Boards (LHBs), including Cwm Taf, Betsi Cadwaldr University Health Board,Aneurin Bevan, Abertawe Bro Morgannwg University Health Board, Hywel Dda, Powys Teaching Local Health Board, and the Cardiff and Vale University Health Board, including Wale`s largest hospital and the third largest in the UK.
Figure 1: Wales Health care provision map
Source: NHS Wales 2013
Above 17% of Wales` population is over the age of 65, and the modal age group is betwen 40-50 years. This presents a country whose working population is skewed towards the older members, posing significant challenges for the healthcare expenses likely to be incurred and the nature of care expected for the large aging population. The figure below indicates the population structure of Wales. It shows that the modal age is 40-50, and that a large percentage of the population is above 50 years. Healthcare systems in Wales are therefore modelled with this consideration.
Figure 2 : England and Wales population structure.
(Welsh NHS 2011)
This structure has a bearing on the nature of healthcare needed by the population, largely because the social strucuture has an effect such determinants of health as dietary intake, proper housing and food security among other issues.
Welsh Healthcare Standards
In order to deliver its mandate, the NHS in Wales has come up with standards of patient care which must be met in line with the international regularization of modern healthcare (NHS 2013). The objectives of the standards include formulation of a care system based on common values with a global dimension, and which is patient centered, to implement continous development and improvement in the quality of care, to promote a platform on which care providers can evaluate themselves and be easy to evaluate by external entities such as government bodies, and to enhance the image of NHS as a quality health services provider and regulatory authority(NHS,2012). The Standards are set along three dimensions of Clinical Outcomes, Patient experience, healthcre governance,and public health (Welsh Govt, 2012).
Table 1: Welsh patient care indicators.
Patient experience is about enhancing pateint experience through seeking opinion and contributions from relatives, patients, and other interested parties regarding how care standards maybe lifted (Department of Health, 2010). According to the above report, patient experience is one of the four most important domains of the Welsh healthcare policy. In this respect, the Welsh approach to healthcare resembles the English approach, as both bodies are under the NHS.
Clinical outcomes domain is mainly concerned with service delivery durations, quality of service and sustainability of best practise. All treatment and care is evidence based and delivered by qualified professionals, in conditions of appropriate supervision, and that regular audit is done to ensure care proffesionals are performing in accordance with set procedures. In addition, clinical practice including research and experimentation is conducted within the procedures and principles outlined in the National Institute for Clinical Guidelines (NICE) framework . NICE is mandated with oversight of the health policies in the Wales and the larger UK, though there are slight variations in the individual implementation policies in different countries (NICE, 2013). One major drawback in this organization`s mandate is that it does not enforce the guidelines, it simply formulates them (NICE, 2013). This means that the healthcare institutions do not have to implement these decisions unless they want to, which is a major drawback to the Welsh policy.
This domain seeks to protect and empower both the employees and employers within the healthcare practice, while ensuring ethical standards are maintained. It emphasizes accontabiity in service delivery (NHS 2012). This section ensure that care organisations continously upgrade their standards so as to improve patient experience, identify patient concerns and report the neccesary cases to the NRLS.
The section ensures that any form of risks associated with procurements of medical facilities are minimized, and contamination risks arising from the re-use of certain medical equipments are contained through proper sterlization or decontamination. In addition, all processes of disposing of any waste material resulting from medical proccedures is properly disposed of to avoid health risks to staff, patients, the general public and the broader enviroment. All employed staff are verified to ensure they are professionally qualified in their work, and that recurrent training and personal development programs are availed to ensure staff are competent and confident. If properly implemented, this domain would effectively raise the standards of Welsh healthcare.
Currently, NHS Wales has embarked on a patient care policy framework through the `Together for Health` policy document. Published in the Welsh Government website (Welsh Government, 2013), the policy is a five year vision which places “prevention, quality and transparency” as the core values in Welsh Healthcare. The policy change is driven by the rise in aging population, health inequalities, rising cases of chronic illnesses, and staffing problems. To be successiful, the policy is focusing on better usage of IT systems, improving healthcare quality, developing healthcare workforce, being compact with the public and modernization of services in the sector.
To deliver on this policy initiative, the Welsh government has laid out a plan called `Achieving Excellence` ( Welsh Gorvenment, 2013) the delivery part for the above policy. The plan aims to provide services that are `safe, affordable, effective, accessible and sustainable, by 2016. To evaluate this plan, the Welsh government issued the Annual Quality Statement Template in January 2013 to ensure that all Trusts and Healthcare Boards report on their progress towards achieving the policy ( Welsh Government, 2013). This plan, if properly implemented, will ensure a safer patient experience in all healthcare facilities in Wales.
The Welsh Patient Protection Policy
The NHS has incorporated a strong patient safety policy in its healthcare mandate, targeting mainly openess in information dissemination, error reporting, patient handover procedures and medical tools safety. The emphasis of the Welsh government on patient safety is evident in the 2005 Being Open policy, which has been revised between 2005 and 2008. To safeguard the safety of patients, the NHS formed two regulatory functions the Error Reporting through the National Reporting and Learning Service, and the Patient Safety Alert service.
The Being Open initiative holds that patients, their families and other important parties should be informed of any decisions that care professionals intend to make, the reasons for those decisions, all posible consequences, and the choices that the patient or their representative has in the medical processes at hand. Informed consent on part of the patient is important in ensuring that effective healthcare is realised, as well as in minimizing conflicts between patients and healthcare organizations. This later concept becomes especially important in case of an error, as the patient and their family are much more likely to accept unwanted consequences if they were party to the decisions that lead to the error than if there were no consultations.
According to the campaign, the benefits of Being Open are recognized by the various organs including the Department of Health, National Health Service Litigation Authority (NHSLA), General Medical Council (GMC), and the Medical Defense Union among others. In its constitution, the NHS commits to acknowledging mistakes when they happen, apologizing for them, and immediately acting to remedy them within the shortest time. Therefore, the NHS patient protection and safety principal suggests that staff look into their services from the standpoint of the patient. This way they are able to work towards better patient protection, as opposed to better fulfilment of routine procedures. A challenge in this arangement is that private healthcare institutions are not obligated to have clear implementation frameworks for error reporting, and the way to do it is left to them.
In a statement on the NHS Cymru`s official website, patient safety has now been placed above all other priorities in the NHS trusts and Health Boards agenda (Welsh Government 2013). According to the website, patient protection and safety involves identification of safety risks, analysis and reporting of safety incidents and threats, learning from past mistakes and implementing sustainable solutions for patient risk scenatios. The National Patient Safety Agency has therefore come up with seven steps (NPSA, 2013) to help healthcare organizations realise the objective of giving safer care. The seven steps are building a safer culture which will embed benchmark safety routines in all practitioners, establishment of a strong emphasis on patient safety in all operations, put in place systems to identify and mitigate risk, promotion of adequate and timely reporting mechanisms, inclusion of the community in policy formulation and communicate openly with the various stakeholders in the healthcare provision, emphasize on training lessons for staff so that they can realise why mistakes occur, as well as invest in mechanism to implement safety solutions in an efficient and timely manner.
Regretably, most of the institutions in Wales have only partially implemented these recomendations (NRLS 2013). Accountability is handled collectively and therefore individuals are not taken to task over their actions in patient protection. The govrnment of Wales, however, has joined international bodies such as those involved in formulation of a joint Electronic Health Record (EHR) platform, in regulating healthcare activities, a positive step towards realisation of patient protection. In addition, the Francis report implicating healthcare personnel in recklesness during patient care has revealed that the Being Open policy may not be successiful.
Patient Protection and Safety Alert Challenges
The NPSA has developed a seven steps guideline to patient safety, aimed at delivering excellent patient care in safe environments. The guidelines for patient safety are listed inthe NPSA website and include building a safety culture, supporting the team involved, integrating the various risk management activities, enhacing error reporting, involving all interested parties, sharing safety information and thorough implementation of findings
Patient Safety Alerts, also called notices of safer practise, are reports issued by National Patient Safety Authority regarding issues which pose great risk to patients and which have repeatedly been observed in healthcare facilities. How well the NHS Wales handles these alerts is an indication of the level of competence the patient prtection initiatives in Wales have. In May 2011, the Action againist Medical Accidents (AvMA), a charity dealing with medical safety, published a report on medical alerts generated in the various Healthcare Boards within Wales, and then analysed the effectiveness of handling such alerts by the various healthcare rganisations (AVMA 2011).
In order to ensure credibility of the alerts struture, only serious, potentially life threatening incidents are reported as alerts. In the recent years, several healthcre boards within Wales have merged, making it relatively challenging to make credible followups on the effectiveness with which these medical alerts are handled (AVMA 2011). The 2011 probe by AvMA into patient alerts revealed that no single healthcare board had manged to comply with all the 64 alerts generated within the previous one year period, where more than 170 instances of failing to comply with an alert were observed. Of the 64 alerts requiring action, about 11 had not been complied with and had passed the required dealine by more than 3 years (AVMA 2011).
Table 2: AvMA Compliance by Major Healthcare Boards Reports
The results above indicate that the leading hospitals in Wales have failed to implement proper adherance with the set guidelines, with the majority scoring less than 60% in actioning alerts. This trend leads to decreased patient protection, since a significant number of alerts are about critical patient issues.In accordance with the AvMA report, three recomendations were suggested. Firstly, each healthboard must publish its action plan each time patient safety alerts are reported, with a definite completion time for all actions intended. The charity also recomended that the government runs a comprehensive website which rates each healthcare board depending on the boards compliance with health safety concerns. The individual boards should also run similar websites in order for public information to be realised. Thirdly, the charity body recomended that urgent steps be taken to ensure a regulatory framework is established which ensures pateint safety alerts are implemented in all healthcare boards (AVMA 2011).
The National Healthcare Safety has in the last decade instituted proper guidelines through the Welsh National Patient Safety Agency NPSA which encourage doctors, nurses and other healthcare officials to report errors during their interactions with patients, and how to go about reporting the occurences. In a document published in 2010 by NHS through the NPSA called Medical Error, 2010 (Mandeville 2010), the NHS seeks to eductae junior doctors on the procedure of reporting errors.
The document holds that good will of a practitioner towards a patient, in itself, is not sufficient to prevent them from forgeting vital procedure in patient care. The suggested workflow starts with incident occurence, then the documentation of the incident, how to be open with patients and other interested parties, how to report the incidents, how to draw meangniful learnings from the incidents, and how to handle complaints in cases where the patients raise them (Mandeville 2010).
While error reporting policy is a pivotal element in patient protection, it has not been universally implemented in Wales, and the few cases of full implementation lack standardization, so that different hospitals use different approaches. This aspect means that patients and other oversight bodies are unable to keep track of error reporting efficiency in care centres.
A major challenge regarding patient safety has to do with error reporting. The National Reporting and Lerning Service (NRLS) periodically rates the various hospitals and other care bodies to show their performance with regard to the frequency, truthfulness and timeliness of error reports. The March 2013 report for the Abertawe Bro Morganwwg University is shown below.
Figure 3: Error reports average for Abertawe Bro Morganwwg University in 2013
The table shows that the reports submitted by the University Hospital are less than exhaustive, even though the hospitals performance is better in most aspcts than the average report rate of other units. Improvement needs to be done regarding the error reporting aspect of patient care.
Patient Safety Incidents
NHS defines patient safety as the “patient`s freedom from accidental injury due to medical care or from a medical error” (NPSA, 2011). The NPSA recomendations are that in the event something bad happens, the nurse in charge should start by checking patient`s clinical care history and immediately inform senior staff. In addition, the nurse should apologise to the patient immediately and fill a report form.
Documentation of the incident should be done immediately to avoid informatition distortion. Key points include incident date, time, specifics of the incident, severity, presumed causes and action taken. The next step involves being open. In this step the practitioner apologizes to the patient in a manner which is polite but does not neccesarily imply he/she is taking responsibility for the incident. Every healthcare facility has an incident reporting system, usually a computrized interative user GUI which captures the main information points. Hundreds of these reports are automatically pooled and intelligent trends are automatically picked out. These trends help administrators and policy designers to combat recurrent patient safety issues at the national level (Mandeville 2010).
In Wales, the Medical Defense Union is a representative body which assists doctors and other practitioners in legal matters arising from errors in mecial procedure or care (MDU 2013). The body`s policies are founded on the principle of Being Open as the first and most effective reaction to error incidences. Legal redress is only a last option, because the policy of putting the patient first implies the most important objective is to consider the interests of the patient, and not to avert legal suits from the healthcare board (Bevan, 2006). This body protects the practitioners, but also investigates the truth about doctor-patient circumstances before presenting the defense, thus building an objective and balanced outlook towards patient protection.
The table below shows grading used by the Wales regulatory bodies to rate incidents.
Figure 4: NPSA Error Grading
The grading above is an important way of ensuring patient protection. However, the lack of a oversight authority to ensure enforcement of the scheme internally, and lack of government action regarding violations in such a scheme compromises patient protection standards in Welsh healthcare units. A recent case is the Francis Report regarding the Mid Staffordshire Trust Public Inquiry. The report, published in 2009, reported that patients were routinely neglected as the Trust concentrated upon cost management. Robert Francis mentioned in the report that cases of patients going unwashed, unfed and erronously discharged were common. In addition, patients were regularly left in the care of family members, since the hospital was unable to provide the much needed help to patients (The Inquiry Report, 2013). The report was expected to spearhead reforms in the Welsh Healthcare policies especially with regard to patient care and protection, but was met with resistance by the concerned hospital. In order for the policy of being open to improve the Welsh patient safety and protection, the Francis report suggested the introduction of the duty of candour, aligned with other exsisiting legislation including the Healthcare Act 2009, which directs that General Practitioners, members of the NHS and all other parties concernd with patient care must be open with patients when incidents regarding the patients arise. The duty of candour was also properly laid down in the Francis report, and is currently being implemented across the NHS trusts. Significant improvements have been made with regard to patient care since the introduction of the Being Open policy, and patients have reported better services and satisfaction (NPSA 2011).
Patient handovers are a vital process in healthcare. Handover happens when a patient has to be trasfered from the care of one organisation or board to another, or simply from one doctor or nurse to another as is the case during shift changes in hospitals (Bevan, 2006). This maybe done within the same physical location as in the cases of homebased care, or within different locations as in the case of change of hospitals for inpatients. The process of handover should be handled in such a manner as to avail all neccesary medical history, care given including medications and other items, and patient`s current status during the handover, by the custodian unit to the new care organization (Curie, 2002). Failure to avail all neccesary information regarding the patient in an accurate and timely manner may imply that the patient receives a totally discontinous medical attention, sometimes to the patient`s disadvantage. Regulating patient handover processes is an important safety aspect in the NHS (Mandeville 2010).
Thorugh comprehensive guidelines (such as proper records keeping, ensuring proper communication, confidentiality ) have existed in Wales regarding patient handover for several decades (Curie, 2010), reports conducted to ascertain the efficiency of such handovers in ensuring patient pretection and safety have revealed flaws in safety standards. Curie(2010) noted in a 2002 report that handovers conducted verbally had often lacked clarity, were conducted in noisy environs, information was missing, there was no confidentiality or handovers were not made at all because staff were late or left too early (Currie 2010). The Welsh healthcare policies have now refined handovers so that the following guidelines are followed. Firstly, the handovers, should be Confidential,Uninterupted,Brief, Accurate and the parties named ( CUBAN) (Hays 2003). Usually there are other details such as time of handover, patient conditions, medication being administered, suggested course of action among other details.
Through the national healthcare service has recomended policy guidelines that ensure patient safety during handovers, each medical facility has its own format of safety guidelines during handovers (Curie, 2010). The Conwy and Denbigshire NHS trust for istance conducts a safety briefing on recorded media which is then availed to all outgoing and incming shift attendants(Bevan, 2006). This live recording regards any safety issues including safety to patients, staff, visitors and other parties. It may also carry such information as changes in routine procedures, access to certain facilities, security, changes in infection diagnosis, outbreaks warnings among other issues.
Patient safety and protection is achieved through enhancing clear safety checks from the moment of procurement, usage, upto disposal or replacement. NHS in their website GIG Cymru breaks down the process of patient care through proper usage of tools as follows. Firstly, the process of procurement is done is such a manner as to ensure the quality of tools is acceptable and safe, and is unlikely to pose risks to the patients (NHS 2013). Training is the second element in the NHS proccedures. Training ensures that the staff handling medical tools are properly trained in order to avoid improper usage that may result in accidents.
The training is continous as new machines and equipment is acquired. Other than the operational aspect, proper hygiene in the usa of materials is emphasized. This includes the way machines and tools are cleaned and decontaminated. They should be decontaminated regularly and effectively to ensure patients are safe. Next, staff are obligated to reform safety concerns arising in the usage of tools to authority immediately for example in the case of machine malfunction. Alerts and bullentins regarding machine and tool safety should be promptly distributed within each facility to sensitize staff regarding machine and tool safety. The last element of patient safety involves the hospital`s inventory. Machines and tools should be properly disposed of or replaced when their working conditions are deemed unsafe or their service tenures have expired, even when they are working well. Otherwise they must undergo regular maintainance and be passed for use by qualified service experts (GIG Cymru, 2012).
England Patient Protection and Safety Policy
England is the other country in the UK whose patient protection policies are comparable to those of Wales. As in wales, England`s primary healthcare body is the NHS. Care is therefore structured in a manner similar to Wales, and is available to all citizens upon need, freely, where the burden is met by the taxpayer. England`s NHS comprises of more than 160 acute trusts, 99 of these are foundation trusts, 12 are ambulance srvices trusts, and 58 are mental health trusts( NHS England 2013) Devolution however makes England able to implement different grassroot policies than those of Wales. Different surveys have indicated that more than half of English patients are satisfied with the experince in NHS, with the average percentage reducing for patients who had previously used private care facilities(NHS 2004).
Most NHS policies are harmonized throughout UK, where all member countries are governed by healthcare safety bodies such as the NPSA among others. The laws governing patient information confidentiality, handover processes, and tool safety are similar. In England, however, error reporting has been moved a notch higher than in Wales to include the `Never Events`- events which are serious patient incidents which should not ever occur if proper preventative measures are taken. The Never events list was introduced in 2009 by the English government and has more than 25 events so far (England Department of Health, 2012). Some of the items in the list include wrong site surgery, suicide using non-collapsible rails, retained object post operation, high risk injectable medication usage when improperly prepared, falls from unrestricted windows, transfusion on ABO incompatible blood components among other casues (National Patient Safety Agency 2010).
In recent months, rationing in the healthcare secor has had negative effects on patient protection, especially with regard with the number of healthcare officials available to attend to patients in wards during any one time. The reduced number of attendants mean that patient protection is reduced and unobserved events could be on the rise (Pothier et al 2005). In 2011, England sort to regulate the healthcare sector, increasing the indipendence of local bodies from the NHS in England and reducing the influence of the centralized Department of Health on healthcare issues.
Electronic Health Records was a oncept adopted by the NHS in 2004 and expected to be fully operational in the UK by 2010, however, lack of standardization presented numerous challenges for the system, forcing institutions to adopt separate implementation levels. In Wales, the boy mandated with implementation of Information Technology in healthcare systems, NWIS NHS Wales, provides a regulatory framework that governs the use of EHR systems. Patient protection is largely dependent on EHRs especially with regard to information sharing and error reporting. English healthcare providers have adopted varying levels of EHR uptake, with a significant percentage of processes not harmonized throughout the system. The National EHR system in England collapsed in September 2011 (Information Week, 2011).
Comparison of the Welsh and the English Patient Protection and Safety Policies
Both the Welsh and the English patient protection policies are based on the National Health Services NHS policy guidelines for the provision of a 21st century healthcare standard. Both systems are regulated by the various healthcare oversight bodies. In Wales, healthcare is handled by the NHS trusts, which have their individual policy guidelines and which are subject to the nationwide NHS regulations. England has however moved from reliance on the NHS trusts through adoption of the Halth and Patient Safety Act 2012 which seeks to reform Trusts based patient care. Instead, Clinical Comissioning Groups operated jointly and which involve General Practitioners (GPs) have been instituted to manage healthcare. The Bill emphasizes patient centered care, emphasis of clinical outcomes- rather than cost saving- as the ultimate goal of patient care, and the empowerment of GPs in healthcare provision. Even though the Bill was met with opposition by various bodies including the British Medical Association, it will introduce change in manging healthcare in England. Currently, pateint protection initiatives are available in both countries, and are enforcable through the various regulation bodies such as the NPSA. Most hospitals in Wales have a less than perfect policy on error reporting, incident alert action and other issues. Welsh hospitals have put in place policies to ensure patient protection is enhanced such as error logs, error reporting mechanisms, followup and complaint management. Such a system, if properly installed, is likely to reduce cases of errors and other patient related incidences by a large factor, in effect offering a better patient experience than manual systems. Welsh policies on electronic patient safety systems is fragmented, with different care facilities invested differently in electronic systems. Such a system is difficult to audit, and a nationally adaptible electronic platform which will harmonise the patient protection mandate is likely to be more successiful (National Patient Safety Agency 2010).
The current Welsh healthcare policy is less than perfect. While there are very clear policy guidelines to inform the patient safety implementation, the government has failed to set enforcement mechanisms to ensure that healthcare centres enforce the recomended policies. England, a country also operating under the NHS, has similar systems to those used in Wales. The two countries therefore have comparable policies ragearding patient protection and safety. Wales, however, shows a more promising patient care future especially through the `Together for Health` policy which drives a more pateint centric approach to healthcare.
Patient protection is a critical component of the overall patient experience. Because the effects of a less than perfect patient protection are adverse and maybe as serious as death, the National Healthcare Service of the UK has placed it top in its 21st century healthcare agendas. While both Wales and England are currently under NHS control, they have slightly different policies on patient protection, with England acting to move patient care to commisioned groups under GPs. While their policies are founded on the same NHS directives, the intended benefits of the Electronic Health Records (EHRs) and other automated patient care processes, have not been fully realised due to the lack of standardization of EHR systems across countries.
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