One of the most important responsibilities placed upon nursing staff in the NHS, whether they are established team members or new recruits, is the maintenance of appropriate standards of safety in everything they do.
The health service's modus operandi is all about protecting patients and aiding their recovery, so naturally the idea of anyone suffering harm as a direct result of care quality failings is anathema to medical professionals and NHS managers.
As such, the government is seeking to improve safety standards with a number of new initiatives and laws, all of which will have a positive impact on the quality of care patients receive.
Sign Up to Safety
One of the key measures that has been recently announced is the Sign Up to Safety movement, a wide-ranging initiative that health secretary Jeremy Hunt hopes will receive the buy-in of all divisions of the NHS.
A new national network overseen by NHS England, Sign Up to Safety encourages all of the country's hospital trusts to pledge to reduce avoidable harm and the associated costs of harm by one half over the next three years. This will be accomplished by clamping down on problems such as medication errors, blood clots and bed sores.
An initial 12 vanguard hospitals signed up to the movement last month, with all sectors and units set to be invited to be part of it. By doing so, they will be able to share, learn and improve ideas for reducing harm, with the ultimate aim of saving up to 6,000 lives nationally.
The NHS Litigation Authority - which indemnifies trusts against lawsuits - has agreed to review the plans and, when approved, reduce the premiums paid by all hospitals successfully implementing them, adding a further incentive for organisations to get involved.
A duty of candour
At the same time, the government is seeking to introduce a new legal duty of candour that will make it a statutory requirement to notify patients about incidents where significant harm has occurred and provide an apology, a move that will promote openness and honesty.
A consultation is currently taking place to identify the definitions and eventualities this law will cover, with a recent report led by Royal College of Surgeons president Professor Norman Williams recommending that it should also cover any cases in which patients experience moderate levels of harm.
Other steps that are being introduced include the recruitment of 5,000 safety champions as local change agents, the creation of a Safety Action for England team consisting of senior clinicians, managers and patients, and the launch of a dedicated section of the NHS Choices website called 'How Safe is my Hospital?' in June 2014.
These will go hand-in-hand with new regulations on safe staffing that were introduced this month, compelling all hospitals to publish staffing levels on a ward-by-ward basis, together with the percentage of shifts meeting safe staffing guidelines. These mandatory checks will be done each month, with the evidence being reviewed in public at least once every six months.
It is hoped that by improving safeguards and investing in additional recruitment, NHS staff will be able to offer a consistently higher standard of care to patients in future.
Health secretary Jeremy Hunt said: "We now have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to save lives and prevent avoidable harm - which will empower staff and save money that can be reinvested in patient care."
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