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  • Positive patient safety: how Mustard can help

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    In this blog Patient Safety Learning’s Chief Executive, Helen Hughes, reflects on her recent experience attending a meeting of the Patient Safety Management Network and hearing about the work of the Quality and Safety Department at the Sussex Community NHS Foundation Trust.


    The Patient Safety Management Network is growing from strength to strength and last week’s drop-in session was a brilliant example of the value of people getting together and sharing insights, experience and photos of small dogs.

    Debbie, Charlotte, Hannah and Thomas are an enthusiastic powerhouse of a patient safety team from Sussex Community NHS Foundation Trust. They were invited to share how they have been developing the Trust’s approach to patient safety, building a positive and proactive team even in this last year, during the pandemic. They were inspiring, sharing their passion, vision and ambition to improve patient safety.

    Their focus is on safety culture, learning for improvement and aiming to raise the profile of patient safety within their organisation. They are fizzing with new ideas, creativity and working differently. Their presentation detailed a hugely energetic and impactful year, showcasing new ideas and initiatives that are really beginning to make a difference, although are not always easy to measure, something that triggered an interesting discussion with Network members.

    Patient Safety Learning supports the Patient Safety Management Network by hosting the community on the hub, helping organise the drop-ins and taking notes to capture insights for members of the Network. Today was my turn to take notes and this was such a treat that I felt inspired to write this blog and share with you some of my personal take-away great ideas:


    • Supporting a cultural shift which helps embeds a restorative culture, the Trust has changed its approach to engaging with staff when undertaking investigations into Serious Incidents. For instance, they no longer ask staff to submit ‘formal statements’ or carry out formal investigative interviews. They now focus on engaging with staff for learning and to make the process less threatening and blaming, using language such as, “We’d like to come and listen to you, please share your experience with us.”

    Demystifying patient safety

    • Introducing students to patient safety and the work it involves.
    • Communicating positivity - that improving safety involves learning from what goes wrong, but also very importantly, from what goes right. This also involves communicating how learning can be shared for wider implementation.
    • Personalising the team by giving the team an identity and logo, and shamelessly promoting people’s love of animals by introducing Thomas’s dog Mustard into conversations and newsletters. It’s amazing how many creative patient safety ideas and ‘lightbulb moments’ Mustard has and shares through newsletters!

    Language matters

    • Changing the language used around patient safety issues, for example, describing incidents as ‘patient safety events’.
    • Taking the approach of ‘help me understand what happened’, rather than using formal negative language that might feel threatening or blaming.
    • The patient safety team is promoted internally as being there to help the organisation make the cultural change and as contributing to innovation and improvement.

    Using imaginative communications to engage and inspire

    • Weekly CODSWALLOP meetings (consolidation, offload, share and plan).
    • Boosting the team’s social media profile.
    • Close collaboration with the Trust communications team to share and promote ‘patient safety hot topics,’ including a patient safety resource page on the intranet.
    • A patient safety mascot, did I mention Mustard?!

    Engaging with colleagues

    • Creating supporters and allies, including the compassionate and approachable Chief Medical Officer and Chief Nurse.
    • Close collaboration with the Trust’s HR team and Freedom to Speak Up Guardian. The Trust has recognised leadership in its approach to inviting staff to speak up, be listened to and help change the organisational culture.
    • Learning events such as Patient Safety Week, their formal Dementia Action Alliance, engaging with staff networks for staff and patient benefits such as the Sunflower scheme, and so much more.

    Supporting staff

    • Supporting new ways of working to make patient safety less intimidating and to celebrate the excellent work that happens most of the time.
    • Promoting staff wellbeing, as staff safety and patient safety are two sides of the same coin. This includes an amazing initiative that provides staff who report a patient safety event on Datix with contacts that can provide support and post incident review (such as mental health first aiders and psychologists to triage and signpost) and information on reflecting, understanding that all people make mistakes and focusing on the positive opportunities for learning.

    Working with patients

    • Developing and sharing tools to support and empower patients and Patient Safety Partners.

    The team were honest in their assessment of some of the current challenges such as staff fatigue and whole system pressures. Their positivity shone through though, despite these challenges. They are ‘walking the walk’ not just ‘talking the talk’. They make sure they are visible as a team when things go well, not just when there are problems to be solved, and are learning from and sharing good practice, not just from errors and harm.

    They are an inspiring team and I look forward to following their patient safety journey and sharing more examples of their innovation and creativity through the hub. And more Mustard moments.

    Related reading

    Claire Cox, Patient Safety Management Network – the time is now, 25 October 2021
    Patient Safety at Sussex Community NHS Foundation Trust, 22 October 2021

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