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Patient safety in the NHS

About patient safety

The NHS is expected to treat patients in a safe environment and protect them from avoidable harm.

Patient safety issues are the avoidable errors in healthcare that can cause harm to patients. Harm in this context means injury, suffering, disability or death.

Not all harm is avoidable. Some treatments or drugs are expected to cause harm, such as chemotherapies or certain drug therapies. Rare allergic reactions, for example, are "expected" in the sense that they will happen to a very small number of patients - we just can't predict which ones.

But these are not patient safety issues. Patient safety improvement is about tackling the causes of errors in care that can come from bad working environments or the lack of training and support for staff.

Healthcare organisations in general – and especially hospitals – are complex organisations. Most hospitals have some excellent and very safe departments, wards and staff. But even those with the very best reputations will still demonstrate failings in patient safety in some areas.

This is why the Care Quality Commission (CQC) inspection teams visit hospitals regularly. The judgements of CQC inspections are the most authoritative view of the safety of healthcare in the NHS.

Take a look at the CQC's acute hospital inspection model.


What should I expect as a patient?

Every patient in the NHS should expect the people and organisations caring for them to make their safety the first priority. They should expect to be treated in a clean environment, with a minimal risk of infection. The equipment used should be in good working order and used in the correct way.

Medicines should be given on time and in the correct doses. Treatments should be appropriate for their condition, with procedures performed correctly and in a timely and effective way.

Patients who are being cared for in hospitals, in their own home, or in nursing or care homes should receive care that minimises the risk of any further harm, such as blood clots caused by not moving, pressure ulcers (bed sores) from sitting or lying in one position for a long time, or infections from having a catheter inserted.

Care should be delivered in a co-ordinated way by competent professionals who work in an effective team. This includes communicating patients' needs effectively. 

Patient safety data on NHS Choices

On this website you can already compare hospitals according to waiting times, facilities, specialist treatments, or consultants. Now you can also see how hospitals perform on patient safety. Find out how hospitals recognise and report problems with safety, how well they are fulfilling their nurse staffing requirements or if the staff would recommend the hospital to their own family or friends. The information on patient safety will help you to make an informed choice about where to have treatment.

You can search for hospitals in England by postcode or location, and find out how they are performing. Hospitals are ranked by how they are doing in terms of infection control and cleanliness but also their CQC rating, safe staffing levels, or patient safety reporting.
Some hospitals do not have data for every indicator, shown as n/a (data not available). This can be because:

  • the hospital is not required to report on a particular indicator
  • the data isn't yet available
  • the hospital has not submitted data for this indicator

You can click on a hospital name and find out more about their patient safety and safe staffing data. You can also view ward-level staffing data by looking up a given hospital's department or speciality. More information about each safety indicator is provided in the Glossary of patient safety indicators.

Download the summary spreadsheet of the data from NHS England's website and explore further how hospitals are performing against this newly published data.
If you would like to look up a particular hospital near you, use the Services near you facility, and enter a postcode. On the results page select ‘Safety’ from the topics drop down. 

How to raise concerns

If you are worried about the care provided to you or a loved one, you should raise concerns with the hospital first. Speak to staff on the ward or your consultant.

If you don't know who is responsible for your care, or you do not want to raise concerns with that person, you can contact your local clinical commissioning group (CCG) using the NHS complaints procedure. CCGs commission secondary care services such as hospital services and mental health services.

Page last reviewed: 24/06/2014

Next review due: 30/09/2016

Open and honest reporting - NHS patient safety indicators

See how the NHS performs on patient safety indicators such as infection control, cleanliness and safe staffing levels. You can search for information, covering either local hospitals or the whole of England.

Alternatively you can download a summary spreadsheet from NHS England's website and explore how hospitals perform against this newly published data.


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