Using data to improve safety in the NHS

Data is of crucial importance to the NHS national patient safety team’s work to keep patients safe and improve the quality of care. Data not only helps the team identify and act on emerging patient safety issues, but also improves our understanding of safety and supports us to focus on areas that have the most impact.

Why health and care data matters to me - Dr Aidan Fowler

Aidan Fowler, national director of patient safety

“The NHS has a long record of national safety learning and improvement, creating the world’s first national patient safety incident reporting system in 2003. Our National Reporting and Learning System (NRLS) collects over 2.2 million incident reports each year from across the NHS and the imminent rollout of a new and improved national system will offer an even greater depth of insight.

"Analysis and review of a wide range of data sources allow us to identify new or under-recognised patient safety issues, enabling the team to rapidly address concerns by taking appropriate NHS-wide action, such as issuing a National Patient Safety Alert, or working directly with partners including the royal colleges. A national approach means we can see things that might not be obvious locally, allowing us to stop a new or under-recognised issue that occurred in one organisation from being replicated in others.

"In addition to advancing our understanding of safety issues, we use patient safety data to identify improvement opportunities. There are currently five national safety improvement programmes led by the national patient safety team and delivered through Patient Safety Collaboratives, hosted by Academic Health Science Networks. Intelligence from a range of national datasets allows us to monitor performance, drive progress, and measure impact.

"We share information with many partners, including the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), the Care Quality Commission (CQC) and Public Health England (PHE) to improve safety overall. Our ambition is to ensure we continue to build on work with these partners to avoid gaps in our knowledge. By collaborating effectively, we can triangulate patient safety data alongside Healthcare Safety Investigation Branch (HSIB) reports, the yellow card system, regional intelligence, medical examiner data, clinical audit reports, staff survey responses and patient feedback. This will provide the best and most efficient way to support the NHS to detect and understand important issues and act to ensure a systemwide response to safety, quality concerns, and improvement."