At a patient safety conference last week with a room full of professionals working in health I was struck by the dedication and commitment to improving the experiences and outcomes for all patients. We talked about everything from leadership and culture to learning from good practice.

People attended because they recognise that improving patient safety is a systematic issue for health care. So, I was intrigued about the debate we had on professionalising patient safety. I spoke about the critical omission of having behaviours in place – the ‘how’ we go about our jobs rather than the technical competence in relation to what we do.

It felt to me that ‘behaviours’ are just too intangible for people to get their arms around and its safer and more comfortable to talk about competence criteria, human factor checklists or training to deal with emotional labour.

Of course, skills and knowledge are vital but being technically competent is simply not enough. Culture and behaviour are as important as policies, standards and leadership. Without all these things coming together, we are laying bricks on an inadequate foundation and building our house without the cement to make it strong and enduring. Behaviours are the cement.

We need to get all staff in the NHS to have patient safety behaviours front of mind and not view these as a checklist or a process. Whilst some of the aspects of improving patient care do require policy, physical and technological redesign and process developments, the key underpinning common factor is people. Let’s be part of a movement normalising the mindset to put patient safety front of mind which means more conversations!

Setting out the behaviours we are talking about would help everyone:

  • to understand ‘how’ they need to behave as well as technical competencies and so making a critical difference to patient outcomes
  • by providing concrete examples of behaviour that inhibits patient safety and developing a shared language to describe expectations
  • to see where good practice exists and learn from this in behavioural terms and
  • it would help to clarify what behaviours are expected when thing go wrong

Asking people to ‘behave differently’ is not tangible and therefore needs clearer support. Patient safety is a complex agenda covering multiple professions that provide care in many settings, so I am not suggesting launching another initiative from on high but involving people from across the range of organisations in having conversations about what makes the biggest difference in how they go about their jobs and sharing examples of good practice so that we can all learn from this and create a movement for valuing and appreciating how we do our jobs as well as what we know.

Please visit the patient safety hub where you can add your own examples of good practice and let’s start to build up an encyclopaedia of good practice:

Lubna Haq

Lubna is an experienced business leader. Most recently she worked as a partner in a global company responsible for designing and introducing leadership programmes targeted at middle managers.