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Safety is not just a property of systems, say patients. It is personal and contingent, and is realized in the interaction between doctor and patient, according to researchers at the NIHR Manchester Primary Care Patient Safety Translational Research Centre (GM PSTRC).


Patient safety research has tended to focus on hospital settings, although most clinical encounters occur in primary care, and has emphasized practitioner errors, rather than patients’ own understandings of safety.

The SPCR funded project Patients' perspectives and understanding of high performing, safety conscious general practice explored the feasibility of asking patients about their understanding and experiences of safety in general practice using interviews and focus groups to address the following questions:

  1. What contribution can patients make to understanding and improving the safety of their care?
  2. Are concepts and terms, used commonly in patient safety literature, understood by patients and how do patients conceptualise such concepts?
  3. What are the specific obstacles or promoters of successful adoption of ‘safe’ practice from a patient perspective?
Conceptualizations of safety included a common reliance on the apparatus of accreditation, accountability, procedural rules and regulation that formed a largely invisible and taken-for-granted framework to safe care, but were also individual and context-dependent: one person’s interpretation of what it means to be safe might be different from that of another and different in different contexts.”
- Penny Rhodes

Researchers Penny Rhodes, Professor Stephen Campbell and Caroline Sanders found that it is the safety thinking has been dominated by a systems approach and patients’ individualistic and relational conceptualizations are poorly accommodated within current service organization.

In a press release issued today by the University of Manchester, researcher Penny Rhodes says:

“The study did not uncover a single, coherent understanding of safety but a plurality of views that could change with changing circumstances and needs." 

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