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Sharing learning from practice to improve patient safety

According to the World Health Organisation, the safety of healthcare is a major global concern, and an inadmissible number of patients are suffering from preventable harm. In the US, medical errors are the third leading cause of death; in the UK, it is estimated that one incident of patient harm is reported every 35 seconds. A major project led by Dr Alison Steven is seeking to address this critical issue by building an open access Virtual Learning Centre that facilitates international, multi-professional learning about patient safety – the overall aim being to positively influence education for health and social care professions, and improve standards of care across the EU and beyond.

An Associate Professor and Reader in Health Professions Education, Dr Steven has a longstanding interest in the use of education to raise standards of care and ensure patient safety. She leads the EU-funded project SLIPPS (Sharing LearnIng from Practice to improve Patient Safety), which draws on previous educational research conducted by Dr Steven and Professor Pauline Pearson (also from Northumbria University), as well as the international expertise of the wider SLIPPS team. Seven leading universities and five associated health and social care institutions in Finland, Italy, Spain and Norway are involved.

SLIPPS is unique in that it taps into a valuable but unexploited resource: students’ experiences. Health and social care students on practice placements have the potential to offer fresh perspectives on clinical practices and issues of patient safety, but research has tended to focus on the expertise of academics and practitioners who are already embedded in health and social care systems.

Key to SLIPPS is the multi-faceted ‘learning event recording tool’ rigorously developed by the EU-wide, interdisciplinary team, of which Dr Steven was instrumental. The tool provides the researchers with vital data used to inform further studies and create all-important educational resources such as simulation scenarios and virtual seminars that are based on real-life events. Another significant feature of the tool is that it enables students to not only anonymously describe, but to reflect on any patient safety-related experiences they have; thus enhancing their own learning and understanding of such issues, and encouraging their development into future reflective practitioners. To date, the team has collected over 300 records of students’ learning events.

Widely successful, the tool has been embedded in the curricula of several educational programmes in the UK, Norway, Spain and Finland, and can be freely used both by students and lecturers in seminars and lecturers. Indeed, with colleagues at Northumbria University, Dr Steven instigated its use in the pre-registration nursing programmes, midwifery, physiotherapy and some of the post-registration nursing programmes within the University.

The learning event recording tool is just one part of SLIPPS’ wider remit to develop a global, open access SLIPPs Virtual Learning Centre (SVLC), through which all of the resources produced by the team, including the research, a database of learning event reports and educational tools, will be freely available to academics, health and social care practitioners, students and patients. The SVLC will be accessible via the SLIPPS website.

SLIPPS has the potential to impact health and social care on many levels, nationally and internationally, from the instigation of change in clinical practices to the development of patient safety innovations, systematic sharing of good practices and learning events, and analysis of cultural and national differences in patient care – all of which offer a multi-pronged approach to tackling patient safety as a global concern.

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