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.

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