The importance of meaningful family engagement following a patient safety incident

by Louise Pye, Head of Family Engagement, Healthcare Safety Investigations Branch

Commentary over many years has described the importance of meaningful family engagement following a patient safety incident. Failing to effectively involve patients and families excludes their experiences from investigations and perpetuates feelings that their voices are not heard. This is compounded when families are not informed of incidents and investigations, not updated on what is happening during investigations and not given the opportunity to ask questions or influence improvements.

Healthcare safety investigations are an opportunity to learn and improve systems and processes to reduce risk and improve safety. Including the family’s voice in these investigations is fundamental to bringing about these improvements.

It is recognised that undertaking family engagement of a high quality can be challenging for many reasons, particularly when the guidance on how to do it is limited.

I am pleased to say that introductory guidance for engaging and involving patients, families and staff following a patient safety incident will soon be available alongside the revised Patient Safety Incident Response Framework (PSIRF) and is expected to be published in June 2022.

This introductory guidance, which shall be reviewed after the first year, will describe the structures and process that, if in place, will establish strong foundations upon which an effective involvement process can be built. It intends to assist those responsible for PSIRF implementation and those in system oversight roles to consider or review what systems are in place. The guidance also provides practical advice aimed at those in roles directly linked to working with those affected by patient safety incidents (for example, learning response leads and family liaison officers).

There is now an opportunity for Trusts to consider this specific area of process within their patient safety incident response plans. It is recognised that Trusts currently have different approaches to this work, including family liaison officers, full or part-time investigators or other nominated contacts. Whoever is to be designated the point of contact for patients and families will benefit from defined responsibilities, specific skills, knowledge, training, organisational support and the relevant resources to be able to deliver this service effectively.  Establishing a structured approach, with a clearly defined purpose and method of delivery will support all those with a role to play in making patient and family involvement a success and therefore improving the quality and impact of patient safety investigations.

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