The fair treatment of staff supports a culture of fairness, openness and learning in the NHS by making staff feel confident to speak up when things go wrong, rather than fearing blame. Supporting staff to be open about mistakes allows valuable lessons to be learnt so the same errors can be prevented from being repeated. In any organisations or teams where a blame culture is still prevalent, this guide will be a powerful tool in promoting cultural change.
This guide supports a conversation between managers about whether a staff member involved in a patient safety incident requires specific individual support or intervention to work safely.
- it asks a series of questions that help clarify whether there truly is something specific about an individual that needs support or management versus whether the issue is wider, in which case singling out the individual is often unfair and counter-productive
- it helps reduce the role of unconscious bias when making decisions and will help ensure all individuals are consistently treated equally and fairly no matter what their staff group, profession or background. This has similarities with the approach being taken by a number of NHS trusts to reduce disproportionate disciplinary action against black and minority ethnic staff.
This guide should not be used routinely. It should only be used when there is already suspicion that a member of staff requires some support or management to work safely, or as part of an individual practitioner performance/case investigation. Remember, you have moved into individual practitioner performance investigation when it is suggested a single individual needs support to work safely (including training, supervision, reflective practice, or disciplinary action), as opposed to where a whole cohort of staff has been identified, which would be examined as part of a safety investigation.
The guide does not replace the need for patient safety investigation and should not be used as a routine or integral part of a patient safety investigation. This is because the aim of those investigations is system learning and improvement. As a result decisions on avoidability, blame, or the management of individual staff are excluded from safety investigations to limit the adverse effect this can have on opportunities for system learning and improvement.
This guide reflects our best current understanding on how to apply the principles of a just culture in practice, in what is a live area of both academic and practical debate.