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  • Patient Safety Spotlight Interview with Beverley Hunt, Professor of Thrombosis and Haemostasis and founder of Thrombosis UK

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    This is part of our series of Patient Safety Spotlight interviews, where we talk to people working for patient safety about their role and what motivates them. Beverley talks to us about setting up Thrombosis UK and how it has grown to have a national impact on patient safety in hospitals. She also describes the value of combining policy work with seeing patients face-to-face, and explores the need to find new ways of working to deal with the pressures facing the healthcare system.

    About the Author

    Beverley J Hunt OBE, FRCP, FRCPath, MD is Professor of Thrombosis & Haemostasis at King’s College London, Consultant in the Thrombosis & Haemophilia Centre at Guy’s & St Thomas NHS Foundation Trust and Strategic Lead in Haematological Sciences at Synlab LLP.

    She is Founder, previous Medical Director and now Trustee of Thrombosis UK. She was also a member of the steering group of World Thrombosis Day when it was founded 10 years ago, and Chair for five years until December 2022. In 2019, Beverley was awarded an OBE in the Queen’s birthday honours list for services to medicine.

    Questions & Answers

    Hi Beverley. Please can you tell us who you are and what you do?

    I’m Professor Beverley Hunt and I’m an NHS consultant at Guys and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust and Professor of Thrombosis and Haemostasis at King's College London. Over the past few years I have published extensive research on thrombosis and in 2002 I co-founded the charity Thrombosis UK with Professor Alan Moody.

    Why did you establish Thrombosis UK and what impact has the charity had?

    We started Thrombosis UK to raise awareness of and improve research about thrombosis.

    The prevention of blood clots is really important to patient safety in hospitals, as they are the number one preventable cause of death following admission. We started looking into the situation nationally and it became apparent that some hospitals were very good at preventative measures, while others weren’t doing anything at all. In 2005, we took our findings to the Health Select Committee, who had an emergency hearing about the issue. That was the start of a long campaign which finally came to fruition in 2010, when NHS England mandated action to prevent blood clots in hospitals. That mandate means that every adult who comes to hospital is given a risk assessment and appropriate preventative treatment, and this has led to a reduction in deaths due to blood clots.

    I think we lead the world in this area—there is no other country that has systematically approached blood clot prevention like we have in England. The key to the approach’s success has been that if hospitals don’t follow it, they are given a financial penalty. This means the system was implemented pretty quickly—nothing talks more than money in the health service! The problem we now face is ensuring we maintain these measures in spite of all the other pressures on the healthcare system.

    How did you first become interested in patient safety?

    When we started Thrombosis UK, we had peanuts financially, so I was doing most of the work myself with the help of my secretary—I pulled together a board, made a website and did the business planning each year. We had to work really hard as we had few resources, but we realised we could really change things at a national level even though we were small.

    The two facets of my role—seeing patients and working on national research and policy— are complementary and I like to keep both going. I often sit opposite a new patient in my clinic who has had a deep vein thrombosis or a pulmonary embolism (when the clot breaks off and blocks the blood supply to the lungs), and when they describe what happened to them during a recent hospital stay, I realise that they haven’t received the best quality of care. Seeing people keeps you grounded as you have to stay in touch, but that wider impact is equally important. Working at a national and international policy level enables me to help more people.

    Which part of your role do you find the most fulfilling?

    I find the variation in my work extraordinary. For example, tomorrow I am seeing patients in the morning, then have a call with the World Health Organization (WHO) and then am going to the House of Commons in the evening. I also have lots of admin to do for my clinic! That mix of day-to-day stuff and meetings that could hold great possibilities is really exciting. You never know when you meet someone whether they’ll be able to help make major changes, or whether they aren’t quite as able to act as their title might suggest. I’m never bored!

    What patient safety challenges do you see at the moment?

    The health service is under enormous pressure at the moment, mainly due to poor funding and staff shortages. It means that we can’t deliver what we used to deliver, and therefore we need to find ways to use the staff we have most effectively. 

    Part of my role involves running laboratories and we’re also seeing a shortage of staff there. The challenge is to try and keep standards of care as high as possible, bearing in mind that we don’t have the same staffing levels that we had before. I think electronic systems will help us, but they need proper investment. My hospital will be moving over to a new electronic system that I hope will allow us to use staff more effectively. I speak to people from different countries, so I know these problems are present everywhere, not just in the UK.

    What do you think the next few years hold for patient safety?

    Patient safety is very much part of healthcare in the UK and Europe, and however difficult it is to deliver, it will remain a focus. 

    The challenge for the next few years is to support low- and middle-income countries to make progress on patient safety. At the moment I’m working on a buddying project with a hospital in Africa. We’ll work with them to help develop safer systems through staff training and fixing equipment, without any additional money being involved.

    If you could change one thing in the healthcare system right now to improve patient safety, what would it be?

    I’d clone nurses! I would produce many more highly qualified nurses to overcome the shortages we’re currently seeing on the wards.

    Are there things that you do outside of your role that have made you think differently about patient safety?

    I was a triathlete for many years and ended up in the British Team as an age grouper. Triathlon training was all about being clear about your objectives, following rules and training patterns, and using time effectively. Those principles are very useful in healthcare, especially the ability to use time effectively.

    Can you tell us something about yourself that might surprise us?

    I enjoy making wine and have been growing grapes for around 20 years now. At the moment I am trying to produce the equivalent of champagne! Last year I had a fairly good crop, but unfortunately didn’t have time to make it into wine—it's something I hope to have more time for in the future.

    Related reading

    Jenny, and why we must learn from her misdiagnosis of pulmonary embolism

    National Voices: Pulmonary embolism misdiagnosis - a blog by Helen Hughes (12 January 2023)

    HSIB - Clinical decision making: diagnosis of pulmonary embolism in emergency departments (24 March 2022)

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