Joanna is a Partner in the law firm Bevan Brittan LLP. In our interview, Joanna talks about her role supporting healthcare staff through the legal and investigatory processes that follow an adverse event, and why we must do all we can to maximise the opportunity to learn when things go wrong in healthcare.
Questions & Answers
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
I am dual qualified barrister and solicitor and I head up Bevan Brittan’s market-facing NHS Health Practice.
How long have you been in post?
I have been a Partner in our Health practice for more than 20 years. Before that I worked as a barrister in London as a tenant at 1 Crown Office Row, a leading clinical negligence set.
Can you tell us more about what you do and the purpose of your role?
I advise NHS clients and staff and support them through the multiplicity of legal and investigatory processes that follow an adverse event, be that a serious incident investigation, a clinical negligence claim or an inquest.
Talk us through a typical day
There aren’t many typical days and that’s one of the reasons that I love what I do. As an advocate I may be in Court – quite often in the Coroner’s Court or I may be advising on the appropriate settlement value of a clinical negligence case where a patient has been harmed.
My interest in patient safety has led me to work closely with the Safety and Learning team at NHS Resolution, so I may be exploring a cohort of claims (most recently Emergency Department claims and claims involving suicide) to identify any system-wide lessons.
I might be training with my team so we keep pace with changes in the healthcare investigatory landscape, or speaking at or attending a Patient Safety Conference.
What do you think are the most effective ways to engage staff in patient safety?
The most effective teams learn together.
How should patient safety leaders be engaging with patients?
Patients need to be encouraged to tell their stories and to be actively involved in their healthcare.
What three words best describe a culture that promotes patient safety?
Just. Compassionate. Learning.
What are the three main barriers to patient safety?
- Failing to learn when things go wrong
What do you think needs to stop, start and continue when it comes to patient safety?
We need to do all we can to maximise the opportunity to learn when things go wrong in healthcare. Too often staff still feel blamed and are the scapegoat. This needs to stop and we need to offer more support.
We need to start learning from Prevention of Future Death reports. Bevan Brittan are panel lawyers for NHS Resolution and I think the team here understand that damages paid for clinical negligence is money that no one wants to receive. These funds would be much better spent on patient care. We owe it to the harmed to do everything we can to learn the lessons from claims, supporting NHS Resolution’s strategy.
Can you share an example or anecdote about how your work has had a positive impact on patient safety?
As a frequent advocate in the Coroner’s court I work closely with staff who are called to give evidence. My role is to support them through the process. In my time I have met healthcare staff so devastated by a death that they are thinking of leaving healthcare. With proper help and support, I have seen these staff change their minds and feel able to learn from what has happened, go on with the day job and offer peer support to others.
What are you passionate about?
Learning from death. We need to do more. As things are currently structured, when a Trust undertakes a serious incident investigation following a death and puts in place a robust action plan to avoid a similar fatality, that change is kept within the organisation and is effectively ‘lost’ to the system. I also feel Prevention of Future Death reports in the Coroner’s court are not achieving their potential to drive improvement and make patients safer.
Can you tell us about a woman who has inspired you when it comes to patient safety?
Suzette Woodward is an inspiration. As she herself says, her work distills down to caring for the people that care in order to help them work safely.
What advice do you have for young females who are just starting out in their careers, whether in the healthcare industry or otherwise?
Don’t stay in the shadows, step forward. Take the credit where it’s rightfully yours and accept praise. But, if where you work it’s a case of "he or she who shouts loudest gets heard", think about a move. Bevan Brittan LLP made me a partner when I was on maternity leave with my first child. There are employers out there who practice what they preach.