PUBLIC SECT0R: NPSA plans first PR team to thwart NHS shortcomings

The body set up to reduce NHS blunders is putting in place its first PR team.

The National Patient Safety Agency (NPSA), set up in July last year after a damning report into NHS failures, will create a 15-strong communications team.

The NPSA was set up after recommendations made by an expert group, led by Department of Health chief medical officer Professor Sir Liam Donaldson.

Already in post is its first director of communications Steve Wedgwood, who joined last month from Barking & Havering Health Authority where he was director of PA.

Wedgwood wants to 'make sure people are aware of incidents, learn from them, and ensure they don't happen again'.

To drive campaigns he is to recruit heads of press and PR, internal comms, new media, and campaigns/events within weeks. Further comms staff will follow.

It has been estimated as many as 850,000 'incidents and errors' causing unintended harm to patients occur annually in the NHS.

Some of the most high-profile incidents came at Bristol Royal Infirmary from 1991 to 1995. Between 30 and 35 children who underwent heart surgery died 'unnecessarily' as a result of sub-standard care, according to an inquiry. 'Failure of communication' and a 'club culture' were also highlighted.

The Donaldson-led group's report revealed the NHS had never had a system to analyse mistakes and failures.

The NPSA is now piloting a new UK-wide reporting system for recording and analysing incidents and 'near misses' that affect patient safety. It plans to introduce the system nationally from April.

Wedgwood, who reports directly to NPSA joint-CEOs Sue Osborn and Susan Williams, also wants information kiosks to be installed in NHS buildings to increase awareness of health and safety issues.

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