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New Safety Strategy for health technology

By Gemma Raw

New digital technologies are revolutionising healthcare and transforming the working practices of doctors, nurses and allied health professionals. But how safe are they?

A new NHS Digital Clinical Safety Strategy is aimed at making sure patients are protected. Chief Nursing Information Officer Dr Natasha Phillips was one of three experts who helped launch the strategy on World Patient Safety Day in September this year. Published jointly between NHSX, NHS Digital, NHS England and NHS Improvement, the strategy has two key aims:

  • to improve the safety of digital technologies in health and care, now and in the future

  • to identify, and promote the use of, digital technologies as solutions to patient safety challenges

Commitments in the document include: collecting information about digital clinical safety; developing new clinical safety training materials; creating a central database of optimised standards, guidelines and best practice blueprints; speeding up the adoption of digital technologies to record and track implanted medical devices: and generating evidence for how digital technologies can best be applied to patient safety challenges.

A changing world

For some time, digital technology has been creating major changes for those working in nursing jobs and many other healthcare roles. The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated its use and those behind the new strategy have highlighted the need for more healthcare staff to be trained in digital safety. Currently, the safety of digital apps is seen by many as only relevant to those who commission, design and develop them. However, as the new strategy points out, it's also important to empower frontline healthcare staff with the knowledge and skills to help build a culture in which safety is at the heart of everything the NHS does, including the delivery of digital innovation.

"Safety is everyone's responsibility," said Dr Phillips. "And as a nurse, I know very well the importance of delivering safe care and what it looks like when everyone contributes to a culture of safety. Digital technology offers an opportunity to improve safety in clinical care through better reporting and monitoring, but we also need to ensure that new digital technologies are introduced safely."

Sarah Hanbridge is chair of the Chief Nursing Information Officer (CNIO) Network for leading health IT news and research organisation Digital Health. She welcomed the strategy but also warned about the organisational changes it will require:

“Patient safety is all our responsibilities. As nurses and allied health professionals, delivering safe care is at the heart of what we do every day, proactively taking steps to prevent avoidable harm.

The Digital Clinical Safety Strategy has been welcomed by our CNIO Network, as we know the benefits of how digital technologies can enhance patient safety in delivering care. However, we by no means underestimate the organisational changes required in order to implement the strategy.”

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