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  • Patient Safety Partners – lack of role clarity a barrier for impact

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    The Patient Safety Partner (PSP) role was introduced in 2022 by NHS England as part of its Framework for involving patients in patient safety and National Patient Safety Strategy. Trusts across England must recruit at least one Patient Safety Partner. They can be patients, carers or members of the public who want to support and contribute to an organisation’s governance and management processes for patient safety.

    In this blog, we draw on discussions from the Patient Safety Partners Network and a recent workshop, to highlight the need for role clarity and guidance for Patient Safety Partners.

    We share insights from areas of good practice, where the role has been well supported and integrated locally. These examples show how clarity and guidance has helped remove barriers, enabling Patient Safety Partners to have a positive impact for patient safety, as intended. 


    Patient Safety Partner Network

    In 2023, Patient Safety Learning established a Patient Safety Partners Network.  Patient Safety Partners had been participating in the Patient Safety Management Network and many felt that a separate community of interest would also be invaluable.

    The network provides a supportive and safe space to discuss the issues Patient Safety Partners face, share successes and discuss how they can use their collective voice to make a difference for patient safety. Only Patient Safety Partners can join, although experts are often invited to discuss issues at the monthly meetings.

    Although there are some local Patient Safety Partners networks, to our knowledge there is no other national forum where people in this role can support each other and share insights. It now has over 130 members.


    Discussions at the monthly drop-in meetings quickly focused on role clarity - the opportunities and barriers. To capture member insights, Patient Safety Learning developed a survey. The data from this survey gave a clearer picture of the different ways in which Patient Safety Partners are working around the country, and some of the challenges they face in fulfilling their role effectively, including the clarity needed to champion patient safety at every level of an organisation.

    Members have commented that the survey results will be helpful to them in their discussions within their organisations and will provide insights for the wider patient safety community too.


    In discussing the survey, it was recognised that there would be great value in capturing in more detail where Patient Safety Partners are having impact in their trusts. The concept of a workshop was developed.

    In April 2024, several members of the Patient Safety Partners Network attended the workshop to delve deeper into some of these conversations. The focus of the day, facilitated by Patient Safety Learning and AQUA, was the implementation of the Patient Safety Partner role and the question; “what does good look like?”

    Attendees included national Patient Safety Partners as well as managers from trusts who had worked hard to integrate the role well.   

    Many themes emerged from the rich and diverse conversations within the workshop and a huge amount of learning has been captured and will be shared more widely in the coming months through our global community platform the hub (sign up for free).

    Key areas explored during the workshop:

    • recruitment and internal readiness
    • induction and training
    • influencing and impact
    • involvement
    • culture
    • purpose and measuring success.

    Sadly, a recurring theme throughout the workshop discussions and network meetings has been the lack of role clarity many Patient Safety Partners have, and continue to, experience.

    This blog focuses on role clarity, to reflect how Patient Safety Partners have consistently highlighted the importance of this. We will illustrate the challenges that stem from lack of clarity, as well as insights from good practice that can readily be adopted by other organisations.

    Lack of clarity

    Many Patient Safety Partners have expressed frustration at the lack of clarity around their role and purpose. This gap in information and support has affected them in several ways, causing uncertainty around:

    • who they should be working with
    • which meetings they should be attending
    • the sort of work they should be involved in
    • whether they are strategic partners or representatives
    • what success looks like
    • the training they should be accessing.

    These challenges have been raised regularly, with many feeling that lack of clarity and guidance is preventing them from having the impact they would like.   

    Patient Safety Partners shared some of their experiences:

    "I am a Patient Safety Partner at two different trusts. One gives me a clear role, support and regular catch-up meetings. They also care about my emotional wellbeing. I cannot fault their commitment to PSIRF and the role of Patient Safety Partners. The other I was appointed to a year ago. I have had no clear guidance on what the role should be. I do not feel included and they don't seem to know what to do with a volunteer who has no clinical background. I feel I am adrift and am only there to tick a box."

    "I wanted to make a difference as a Patient Safety Partner. To contribute to patients having an uneventful stay with the NHS, but I am fumbling in the dark with little guidance. It isn't clear what is expected of my role."

    "I am amazed that the NHS appoints Patient Safety Partners and does not have a basic Risk Assessment course for us to attend."

    Learning from good practice

    It has become clear during the network meetings, workshop event and the  recent Patient Safety Partners survey, that there is a huge variation in how the Patient Safety Partner role has been embedded locally.

    While many continue to feel unclear, poorly supported or left to carve their own way in their role, there are some excellent examples of organisations who have integrated the role well. Feedback from Patient Safety Partners within these organisations has been really positive, highlighting the value of clarity and guidance in enabling them to get involved and become true partners in improving patient safety.

    Colin Fiske, Patient Safety Partner at United Lincolnshire Hospitals NHS Trust says:

    "Our Trust approached the PSP role from the start with a strong implementation plan, a solid support structure in place and a clear commitment to listen to the patient voice. This has meant that as PSPs we have not only felt incredibly supported, but our voice has been listened to time and again. We feel valued not only by the Trust but by the staff and clinicians we continually engage with at all levels."

    William Oldfield, Chief Medical Officer at Kingston Hospital NHS Foundation Trust says:

    “Working with our Patient Safety Partners is pivotal to enhancing the quality of care we provide. Their unique insights and experiences enable us to identify and address safety concerns more effectively, ensuring that our system is safe and as responsible as possible.”

    Key insights

    The rich insights shared by well supported Patient Safety Partners and their managers, showed some clear elements that are needed to support the process.

    These included steps that are taken before, during and after the Patient Safety Partner is appointed:

    • clear role description and purpose
    • time and resource invested in recruitment and planning
    • internal preparation and education around the role
    • senior management buy-in/sponsorship for the Patient Safety Partner role
    • induction handbook
    • invitations set up to key meetings
    • introductions made to chairs of meetings and key staff
    • regular meetings with a line manager
    • links made with and/or a mentor and/or a buddy
    • a shared understanding of what success looks like
    • allowing room to shape and flex role within the broader remit.

    These seemingly obvious and simple things make sure that Patient Safety Partners are not integrated in a tokenistic way or left feeling isolated. They can also help to welcome Patient Safety Partners into their new role, providing more clarity and guidance which enables them to contribute their skills and insights effectively.

    Melanie Whitfield, Associate Director of Patient Safety, Clinical Governance and Risk Management at Kingston Hospital NHS Foundation Trust says:

    “Clear role definition and guidance for Patient Safety Partners is crucial for effective, recruitment and engagement, to allow the voice of patient safety to be at the forefront. Without this, there is a potential for superficial acknowledgement of the role and a failure to enhance and improve patient safety or raise the profile of patient safety throughout the NHS. 

    “Conversely, areas where organisations have established robust role clarity and structured guidance showcases the potential for significant improvements in patient safety and safety culture throughout the organisation. This best practice demonstrates the vital importance of empowering patient safety partners to raise the safety voice, providing them with the knowledge and support they need to contribute meaningfully to healthcare safety initiatives.”

    Final thoughts

    The Patient Safety Partner role was introduced to strengthen the involvement of patients in patient safety. Sadly, lack of clarity and guidance has been a barrier to progress for many Patient Safety Partners and this needs to be addressed as a priority. Without this investment, organisations risk losing an excellent resource that, as we have seen, has the potential to positively influence patient safety.

    Helen Hughes, Chief Executive Officer at Patient Safety Learning says:

    “Patient Safety Partners are one of the two core pillars of the NHS Framework for involving patients in patient safety. The Framework envisages them as having the potential to play a key role in embedding a patient-centred approach to safer healthcare.

    “If they are to realise this potential, the volunteers who put themselves forward for these roles must be given clear responsibilities and realistic expectations, coupled with the support and commitment by their organisations. As the findings of the workshop indicate, echoed by our wider conversations with members of the Patient Safety Partners Network, too often this is not the case.”

    At Patient Safety Learning, we continue to work with Patient Safety Partners to share insights and learning for patient safety. We will also be working with AQUA as part of their focus on supporting patient engagement. Together, we’ll be looking at how we can support organisations to gain impact from the Patient Safety Partner role. We would also like to thank the Royal College of Surgeons, Edinburgh their commitment to patient engagement and their hosting of the Birmingham workshop.

    If you are interested in this area of our work, please get in touch at hello@patientsafetylearning.org.

    Join the Patient Safety Partner Network

    If you are a Patient Safety Partner, you can find out more about the Patient Safety Partner Network, and how to join here.

    If you would like to attend a Patient Safety Partners Network meeting as a guest speaker, please contact us at content@pslhub.org.

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