Digital Clinical Safety Strategy adds to NHS patient safety plan

Objective is to ensure digital technologies in health and care are safe and to use them to improve patient safety

The UK government has published a Digital Clinical Safety Strategy with the goal of ensuring digital technologies in health and care are safe, while using those tools to improve patient safety.

The plan is an addendum to the NHS Patient Safety Strategy and is a joint publication between NHSX, the health service’s digital unit, NHS Digital, NHS England and NHS Improvement. It considers digital technologies in terms of their opportunity to enhance safety and their potential to disrupt it, the evidence base for these tools and how to handle the changes brought by the pervasiveness of their use and the gaps identified with a strategic direction.

“I have seen first-hand the risk that digital can present, but I have also witnessed it transform pathways, support staff and save lives,” said Natasha Phillips, chief nursing information officer and director of patient safety at NHSX, in the foreword to the strategy. “We need to ensure the safety of digital health technologies, but beyond that, we need to employ these technologies as solutions to safety challenges.”

An introduction to patient safety and the concept of digital clinical safety is provided in the initial part of the strategy, alongside the regulatory and policy context for the plan. The second part sets out the digital clinical safety plan, with “insight, involvement and improvement” as three strategic priorities for safer systems and cultures, with actions outlined for each pillar. The third part of the plan explains how the strategy will be delivered and updated, with a focus on patient safety and digital health networks.

According to the strategy, digital clinical safety intersects with established strategies and programmes of work around medical devices, cyber security and information governance, and achievement of the goals set out in the plan “depend on the broader digitisation agenda, systems interoperability and general improvements in data quality” across the health and care system.

A total of 23 actions are set out in the strategy, which can be summarised as five national commitments. These include collecting information about digital clinical safety, including from the Learn From Patient Safety Events (LFPSE) service, as well as other sources, such as complaints narratives, claims details, IT helpdesk queries and system downtime reports, with the information expected to improve system-wide learning.

The plan also foresees the development of new digital clinical safety training materials and expanded training across the health and care workforce.

Commitments in the plan also include the creation of a centralised source of digital clinical safety information, including optimised standards, guidelines and best-practice blueprints, as well as the generation of evidence for how digital technologies can best be applied to improve patient safety. The strategy will also seek to accelerate the adoption of digital technologies to record and track implanted medical devices through the Medical Devices Safety Programme.

The final part of the strategy is a call to action for national teams and local actors to prioritise digital clinical safety. “The proliferation of digital technologies across the NHS, and their rapid establishment in day-to-day clinical practice and NHS workflows, demands specific attention,” it says.

“Such technologies are at the heart of the care the NHS provides and therefore have the potential to help, harm and hinder patient safety. Digital clinical safety is vital to ensuring the NHS optimises digital technologies.”

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