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A multi-method study of a large-scale programme to improve patient safety using a harm-free care approach

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articlepeer-review

  • Maxine Power
  • Liz Brewster
  • Gareth Parry
  • Ailsa Brotherton
  • Joel Minion
  • Piotr Ozieranski
  • Abigail Harrison
  • Mary Dixon-Woods
Article numbere011886
<mark>Journal publication date</mark>22/09/2016
<mark>Journal</mark>BMJ Open
Issue number9
Number of pages15
Publication StatusPublished
<mark>Original language</mark>English


Objectives We aimed to evaluate whether a large-scale two-phase quality improvement programme achieved its aims and to characterise the influences on achievement.

Setting National Health Service (NHS) in England.

Participants NHS staff.

Interventions The programme sought to (1) develop a shared national, regional and locally aligned safety focus for 4 high-cost, high volume harms; (2) establish a new measurement system based on a composite measure of ‘harm-free’ care and (3) deliver improved outcomes. Phase I involved a quality improvement collaborative intended to involve 100 organisations; phase II used financial incentives for data collection.

Measures Multimethod evaluation of the programme. In phase I, analysis of regional plans and of rates of data submission and clinical outcomes reported to the programme. A concurrent process evaluation was conducted of phase I, but only data on submission rates and clinical outcomes were available for phase II.

Results A context of extreme policy-related structural turbulence impacted strongly on phase I. Most regions' plans did not demonstrate full alignment with the national programme; most fell short of recruitment targets and attrition in attendance at the collaborative meetings occurred over time. Though collaborative participants saw the principles underlying the programme as attractive, useful and innovative, they often struggled to convert enthusiasm into change. Developing the measurement system was arduous, yet continued to be met by controversy. Data submission rates remained patchy throughout phase I but improved in reach and consistency in phase II in response to financial incentives. Some evidence of improvement in clinical outcomes over time could be detected but was hard to interpret owing to variability in the denominators.

Conclusions These findings offer important lessons for large-scale improvement programmes, particularly when they seek to develop novel concepts and measures. External contexts may exert far-reaching influence. The challenges of developing measurement systems should not be underestimated.