Sunday, February 17, 2008

The Healthcare Commission learning from investigations – mergers, targets, governance and other common themes in public services

The Healthcare Commission watchdog has published an interesting analysis of lessons from 14 investigations into patient safety failures. Such analyses of failing organisations are always to be welcomed. In social housing there are the Learning from Problem Cases series of reviews into "supervision" cases (see the Housing Corporation website here and here). Sadly in other sectors, such as further education colleges, there are ad hoc reactions to failures rather than systematic reviews and efforts to promote learning.

The Learning from investigations report (pdf available) found common themes:

1) Leadership and management: Poor leadership was a problem in nearly all of the investigations carried out by the Commission.

2) Some boards had been focused on mergers or targets at the expense of their broader activities.

3) Lack of continuity in leadership was a problem in some trusts, where frequent changes in management were a factor in poor care. Bullying and harassment by managers was a factor in two cases investigated. The Commission found there was a fine line between promoting change vigorously and bullying.

4) Investigations often uncovered a breakdown in leadership and management, with a lack of clarity on responsibilities from board to ward. Poor teamwork, either between management and clinicians or between clinicians themselves was another common factor in failings.

5) Use of information: The Commission found that most of the trusts investigated did not have adequate systems in place to routinely inform the board of trends or potential problems.

6) Mergers and restructures: Seven of the trusts investigated had recently undergone mergers or significant organisational change.

7) Safeguarding vulnerable adults: Poor understanding of adult protection procedures and responsibilities was a serious problem in the two investigations into learning disability services and also a number of interventions in trusts.

8) Poor care on general wards: When its investigations looked at acute hospital care, the Commission noted that care on general wards fell well below the care provided on specialist wards. Older patients were most at risk as they were often most dependent on good nursing care.

It is note-worthy that the first five of these themes are found widely across public services.

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