Science network sets out vision for improving patient safety

Involving people must be at heart of patient safety innovation

14th December 2020 about a 3 minute read

As part of the response to COVID-19, and to learn lessons from the last 11 months, a network of senior health scientists is developing a new Patient and Public Involvement Strategy.

The initiative is highlighted in a new report from the Academic Health Science Network (AHSN), called Patient Safety in Partnership, which charts progress made so far in England in improving patient safety, and sets out a vision for the future. 

Launching the report, Piers Ricketts, chair of the AHSN Network, and Natasha Swinscoe, Chief Officer Lead Patient Safety, commented:

“Patient safety remains a central priority and guiding principle for all AHSNs. It is the lens through which we look and is embedded in all we do across an inter-connected landscape that aims to improve the safety of services for all users of the health and care system. 

“To do this successfully we must actively involve patients, carers and the public in all aspects of patient safety work”.

"We must actively involve patients, carers and the public in all aspects of patient safety work”. Piers Ricketts and Natasha Swinscoe, AHSN

The report notes that once the COVID outbreak began, local Patient Safety Collaboratives – which are hosted by the AHSNs – switched their focus to new priorities including:

• Identifying and managing people at risk of deterioration

• Implementing the Safer Tracheostomy Care programme to help support hospital staff to care for patients with a tracheostomy

• Support for maternity and neonatal units to safeguard mothers and babies.

PSCs are now returning to existing or new programmes of work but will continue to support the response to COVID-19, including implementing COVID virtual wards and the use of pulse oximetry and remote monitoring.


The aim of the AHSNs is to develop a “pipeline of innovations” that will positively impact patient safety. Some of schemes have in turn become commissioned through NHS England and NHS Improvement Adoption and Spread (SIP).

Examples include a COPD discharge care bundle. AHSNs have also developed successful schemes in the best practice management of atrial fibrillation, as well as a number of projects supporting care homes and domiciliary care staff.

The report also highlights the AHSNs work with NEWS (National Early Warning Score) as another patient safety improvement supported by the 15 Patient Safety Collaboratives.

NEWS has now been taken up by almost all acute hospital trusts and all ambulance service trusts in England, with work now focussing on using NEWS and ‘soft sign’ equivalents such as RESTORE2 which is designed for use in care homes.

Meanwhile the report notes the Suspicions of Sepsis (SOS) Insights Dashboard  has had 5,140 users from September 2019 to September 2020.

Developed by Imperial College Health Partners, it enables NHS staff to use reliable data to monitor and assess the impact of interventions on deteriorating patients with a suspicion of sepsis.

AHSNs have also developed a number of resources and products which support multi-disciplinary training such as The REACT TO series of training resources for care homes.

Mental health

Delivering improvements in mental health is another key strand, with a new safety improvement programme for 2020/21.

This aims to develop innovation and improvement to support patients, families and staff within mental health settings.

Examples include the national AHSN programmes on Focus ADHD, working with mental health trusts and community paediatric services to improve the assessment process for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.

There is also the Eating Disorder Programme to speed up diagnosis and treatment of eating disorders in young people aged 16 to 25.


In October the AHSN published Safer care during COVID-19 a rapid-learning report on the role of Patient Safety Collaboratives (PSCs) during the pandemic.

The new report, Patient safety in partnership Our plan for a safer future 2019-2025: Progress report – one year on is available here