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  • HSIB investigation: Non-accidental injuries in infants attending the emergency department (13 April 2023)

    • UK
    • Investigations
    • Pre-existing
    • Original author
    • No
    • HSIB
    • 13/04/23
    • Health and care staff, Patient safety leads


    Clinicians in emergency departments (EDs) will see babies and young children with injuries that may be non-accidental. If the cause of such injuries is missed, there is a risk of further harm to the child. However, making a judgement about whether an injury might be accidental or not is complex and difficult.

    This Healthcare Safety Investigation Branch (HSIB) investigation explores the issues that influence the diagnosis of non-accidental injuries in infants (children under 1 year of age) who visit an ED. Specifically, it explores the information and support available to ED clinicians to help them to make such a diagnosis.

    Due to the nature of the subject matter no specific incident was used to explore this area of care. Instead, the investigation analysed 10 serious incident reports (reports written by NHS trusts when a serious patient safety incident occurs) to identify the factors that contribute to non-accidental injuries not being diagnosed. These factors were grouped into themes, which informed the terms of reference for the investigation.



    • There is no specific guidance for ED clinicians on the identification of suspected non-accidental injuries and what to do if they suspect an infant has a non-accidental injury.
    • There may be barriers to routinely escalating cases of children with a potential non-accidental injury to paediatric (child specialist) and safeguarding teams.
    • Delays in the availability of information about potential safeguarding concerns add to the pressures on ED staff when making decisions about infants with potential non-accidental injuries.
    • There remain concerns about, and an inconsistent approach to, sharing safeguarding information between organisations.
    • The Emergency Care Data Set (ECDS) gathers information about ED attendances and includes a field for when such attendances are related to safeguarding.
    • The ECDS safeguarding information collected is not currently utilised within the NHS and there is minimal quality assurance in place to ensure that it is reliable.
    • Risk factors for non-accidental injuries which do not meet the criteria to be included on the Child Protection – Information Sharing system (the electronic system designed for information sharing between the NHS and social services) are not included in a patient’s summary care record and may therefore remain unknown to clinicians.
    • The investigation identified mechanisms which could enable safeguarding information that is not currently available to ED clinicians, to be made available through existing national and regional digital systems.
    • Safeguarding teams are often located physically distant from EDs. This can create a barrier to communication and liaison with the team.

    Safety recommendations

    • HSIB recommends that the Royal College of Emergency Medicine, working with relevant stakeholders, develops guidance to support clinicians in the diagnosis and management of non-accidental injuries.
    • HSIB recommends that NHS England, working with relevant stakeholders, reviews the utility of the safeguarding data in the Emergency Care Data Set and agrees a process for assuring the quality of any data to be captured.

    Safety observations

    HSIB makes the following safety recommendations:

    • It may be beneficial if there was an electronic system available for clinicians to view any safeguarding information to assist in decision making.
    • It would be beneficial if the safeguarding operating model, to be tested through pathfinders, included a response time for advice when sought by professionals such as emergency department clinicians
    • It may be beneficial if safeguarding teams are either physically located near to, or make efforts to promote their visibility in, emergency departments.
    HSIB investigation: Non-accidental injuries in infants attending the emergency department (13 April 2023) https://hsib-kqcco125-media.s3.amazonaws.com/assets/documents/HSIB_report__Non-accidental_injuries_in_infants_attending_the_emergency_department.pdf
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