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16 Sep 2015

Using ‘Human Factors & Ergonomics’ to improve patient safety

A Loughborough University professor is working with Health Education England to develop recommendations to improve NHS patient safety.

One in 10 people in healthcare settings experience some form of harm, from trips and falls to surgery errors and incorrect drug prescription.

In 2013, the National Quality Board (NQB) published a concordat on Human Factors in Healthcare outlining a commitment to maximise the potential of Human Factors practices and principles to improve patient safety and experience, efficiency and clinical effectiveness.

Human Factors & Ergonomics (HFE) focuses on optimising human performance by better understanding the behaviour of individuals, their interactions with each other, and with their environment. By acknowledging human capabilities and limitations, HFE offers ways to optimise performance and wellbeing, reducing medical error and its consequences.

Delivering healthcare can place individuals, teams and organisations under immense pressure, and staff have to make difficult decisions in dynamic, often unpredictable circumstances. In these intense situations, decision making can be compromised, impacting on the quality of care, clinical outcomes, and potentially causing harm to the patient. Poor performance also increases costs.

Sue Hignett is Professor of Healthcare Ergonomics & Patient Safety in the Loughborough Design School and a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Ergonomics and Human Factors. She is meeting with many healthcare staff in England, from senior managers and consultants to healthcare assistants and engineers, to explore how HFE can ameliorate the day-to-day safety challenges faced by NHS workers.

Findings will be fed into a Health Education England report on ‘Learning to be Safer’ to be submitted later this year.   

Professor Hignett said:

“Human Factors & Ergonomics is already the favoured design approach across many safety critical industries including aviation, rail and nuclear.

“There are some pockets of really good practice within the NHS, but the changing nature of the organisation means this good practice is hard to embed and sustain.

“By taking a Human Factors & Ergonomics approach we can design out risk by understanding human behaviour and adjusting the systems around that, whether that’s improving communications and IT infrastructures, or redesigning services, physical environments, and equipment.

“It is invaluable for us to gain feedback from frontline staff which we can feed into Health Education England recommendations on developing undergraduate clinical education and continuing professional development (CPD) frameworks that will ultimately embed Human Factors & Ergonomics into the NHS culture and improve patient care.”

To support the roll-out of training and CPD opportunities for NHS staff, Loughborough University is launching two new qualifications; a Postgraduate Certificate (PGCert) and MSc in Human Factors & Ergonomics for Patient Safety start from October 2015.

A two-hour taster course is also available for those who would an introduction to study opportunities available.

Notes for editors

Article reference number: PR 15/174

Loughborough is one of the country’s leading universities, with an international reputation for research that matters, excellence in teaching, strong links with industry, and unrivalled achievement in sport and its underpinning academic disciplines.

It has been awarded five stars in the independent 
QS Stars university rating scheme, putting it among the best universities in the world, and was named University of the Year in the What Uni Student Choice Awards 2015.Loughborough is consistently ranked in the top twenty of UK universities in the Times Higher Education’s ‘table of tables’ and is in the top 10 in England for research intensity. It was 2nd in the 2015 THE Student Experience Survey and was named Sports University of the Year 2013-14 by The Times and Sunday Times. In recognition of its contribution to the sector, Loughborough has been awarded seven Queen's Anniversary Prizes.

In 2015 the University will open an additional academic campus in London’s new innovation quarter. 
Loughborough University London, based on the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, will offer postgraduate and executive-level education, as well as research and enterprise opportunities.

Additional contact information

Amanda Overend
PR Manager
Loughborough University
T: 01509 228697

E: a.j.overend@lboro.ac.uk