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  • Measuring standards of care, not negative outcomes

    • UK
    • Interviews and reflections
    • New
    • Health and care staff, Patient safety leads


    Gavin Portier is Head of Nursing Quality at Barnsley Hospital NHS Foundation Trust. In this interview, Gavin explains how his approach to auditing has moved beyond measuring negative outcomes, instead focusing on standards of care.


    A year ago, you implemented a new approach to auditing at Barnsley. Can you tell us what prompted it?

    In healthcare, we tend to measure safety by looking at negatives. The number of falls, the number of category 2 pressure ulcers, the number of adverse events etc. Our whole system is built on it, from local auditing and Datix reporting, to CQC inspections. But counting the number of pressure ulcers for example, doesn’t really tell you about the standards of pressure ulcer care.

    I wanted to look at things differently; to focus more on the interventions and good practice that helps keep patients safe.

    Where did you start?

    We started with pressure ulcer reduction. Our Tissue Viability team and I looked at the learning from Root Cause Analyses and worked together to create a list of all of the things we can do to help prevent pressure ulcers. Skin assessments, pillow positioning, moving patients etc. If we ticked every box for every patient, would we prevent pressure ulcers altogether (unless the patient doesn’t follow the advice)?

    I took this list and worked with the digital app company, Perfect Ward to build a simple-to-use auditing tool. It allows us to measure safety by our standards of care and interventions rather than counting negative outputs. If our standards of care are high and a lot of people are still getting pressure ulcers, we have assurance on the standard of care being delivered.

    How did you implement the pressure ulcers audit?

    Once we had created the list of standards and preventative measures, we used the app to do an audit of around 35% of patients on each ward. At the start of the project, we found that teams were on average hitting 64% of the standards.

    The digital app provides a performance rating system, with red with red (less than 70%), amber (greater than 70% but less than 90%) and green (90% or more). The performance of the team against these ratings dictate how we would support each team moving forward. For example, if an audit showed a team to be performing at the lowest level (red), we made a commitment to support them on a weekly basis until they were performing at the highest level (green).

    How have staff responded?

    Staff have responded really well. This system provides recognition, and credit where credit is due.  It can help staff to feel confident when they are providing high standards of care and to know that they are doing the right thing for the patients.

    Where there is room for improvement, the Perfect Ward app makes it is easy to see where the gaps in the delivery of interventions exist so they can be tackled. The tissue viability nurses are there to support, coach and to help problem solve. There may be certain interventions that are consistently missed which can sometimes be a sign that the wider organisation needs to help solve the issue. Safety is a shared responsibility, and we need to make sure we have the systems in place to support success.

    What support have you needed along the way?

    It’s really important to have passionate people who understand and believe in this approach to auditing. You need to have an Executive Team who are prepared to look at measuring outcomes differently. I’m lucky, our Director and Deputy Director of nursing are very supportive.

    It’s also important to acknowledge that it is not a silver bullet; change takes time. That can be frustrating for some people who want to see results quickly. It’s taken a year but teams are now hitting on average 94% of the standards set out by the auditing tool, and we are starting to see decreases in category 2 pressure ulcers (per 1000 bed days) since June 2020.

    What have you learnt?

    It has been really important to constantly engage staff and build good relationships, to make sure we understand everyone’s competing priorities. The approach has been a great enabler for quality improvement methodology, empowering teams to find their own solutions and really own the results.

    What’s next?

    This approach to auditing is not rocket science. It can be used to raise standards of care in most circumstances within health and social care – without focusing on the negatives. We have successfully applied it to both pressure ulcer and falls prevention at Barnsley and just started on nutrition and hydration.

    In the future I’d like to see it used in other areas, to identify what excellent dementia care in hospitals looks like for example. It could also be used to ensure that staff have a good understanding of the Mental Capacity Act and safeguarding processes. Or to make sure patients are being well-fed. It really is just a blueprint that can be used to raise standards of care, and safety in any circumstance.

    Final thoughts?

    I personally don’t like to look at my work as reducing harm. I prefer to look at it in terms of improving the standards of care we give our patients. The difference is important.

    The Tissue Viability Team 

    Photograph of the Tissue Viability Team.



    Above is an example of a checklist used for pressure sores.



    The graph above shows the trust average on delivery of the pressure ulcer prevention interventions across adult inpatient wards over a 12 month period.



    The 'distribution of score' graph above shows the percentages scored across the adult inpatient wards for each month over a 12 month period. This graph shows more areas achieving 90% (or more) and fewer scoring 70% or less as time has progressed.

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