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  • Interview with Professor Alison Leary, Patient Safety Learning Trustee

    Patient Safety Learning
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    Professor Alison Leary, Patient Safety Learning Trustee, is Chair of the Healthcare & Workforce Modelling at London South Bank University. In this interview with Patient Safety Learning, Alison discusses why she got involved in patient safety and what needs to change to enable the NHS to become a high performing organisation.


    Q: Alison, please tell us about yourself?

    A: I started out as an engineer and then went on to become a registered nurse. I worked in cancer for about 15 years and became an Advanced Nurse Practitioner. I also studied PG medicine and data science so have an eclectic background. I spend a lot of my time researching the relationship between workforces and safety.

    Q: What got you involved in patient safety?

    A: As a registered nurse, safety is a core part of the job and I’ve always worked in industries which take safety seriously. For some time, I was calculating optimum caseloads for people like specialist nurses and various people approached me to see if it could be done for the wider workforce. I like looking at complex issues, so I’ve worked on several problems.

    Q: You have had a varied career – which role has been the most challenging and why?  

    A: Nursing has been the most challenging because nursing generally isn’t valued or seen for the contribution it brings. I struggle to communicate to decision makers/policy makers the risk of diluting the skill of the frontline workforce. 

    Q: We often hear in healthcare that we can learn from other industries – what needs to change to enable the NHS to become a high performing organisation?

    A: Mostly a shift in culture – being more open when things don’t go well, learning from issues and experiences as they arise and learning from when things do go well. I think employers need to change their view of the people they employ too often they are seen as some kind of expensive burden instead of an essential asset. 

    Q: Who inspires you, and why?

    A: A lot of people inspire me. I think really though I keep doing this because I see people going to work everyday under quite difficult conditions. A lot of patients and families who have suffered but still campaign, like Sara Ryan and Julie Bailey, have given tremendous insight into to the very real challenge we face. I think we are fortunate that people who work in patient safety tend to have a real passion for it. 

    Q: How do you envisage patient safety in the future, and how are you playing a part?

    A: I'd like to see the same legislative framework that other industries have. My part is largely modelling using data I'd like to see an improvement in the quality of healthcare data so that it's more sensitive to things like workloads and safety. 

    A: If you had a magic wand, what would you add to make safer care for patients?

    Q: If I could wave a magic wand, I would introduce safety legislation and a proper safety management system into health. As someone at NASA said to me “people shouldn’t need courage to come to work”.


    About the Author

    Professor Alison Leary is Chair of Healthcare & Workforce Modelling at London South Bank University. After spending ten years in science, Alison undertook an RN diploma. She attained a Masters in Biomedical Science and worked in acute Haematology services. She has a PhD in Clinical Medicine from the University of London.

    She is a Fellow of the Royal College of Nursing, Fellow of the Queen Nursing Institute and a Winston Churchill Fellow (for which she examined high reliability organisations looking at safety). Alison writes regularly, undertakes projects around the modelling of complex systems and has a particular interest in the work of specialist practice and its value.

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    “People shouldn’t need courage to come to work." And when people make courageous decisions for safe care, they are too often not applauded and supported but vilified. Ghastly as when that happend, people just keep their heads down. We can't learn and imporve in that kind of environment.

    We're going to be publishing some blogs about the courage that staff have had to show.  Sadly we think many of these will have to be anoymous. Do you have a story to tell? Please contact me  @HelenH or Claire at @Claire Cox

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