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Focus on patient safety for new £4.5 million NHS Research Centre

Ensuring that healthcare is as safe as possible for patients is the aim of a new national research Centre announced today (Friday 6 April), bringing together academic and clinical researchers at St Mary's Hospital and Hammersmith Hospitals NHS Trusts and Imperial College London.

The £4.5m Research Centre for NHS Patient Safety and Service Quality will be one of two such Centres in the UK, funded by the National Institute for Health Research. It will be based in Imperial College’s Biosurgery and Surgical Technology section, at St Mary’s Hospital, London.

The Centre will trial new approaches and technologies to reduce human error and improve patient care, for example through the use of pharmacy robots to dispense medication, and the involvement of patients themselves in spotting and anticipating medical errors.

Professor Charles Vincent, of Imperial College London and Director of the Centre for NHS Patient Safety and Service Quality, said: “We are delighted with this announcement. Everyone involved is looking forward to this great opportunity of improving safety in the NHS and researching new and innovative solutions to improve the service patients receive.”

Preventable and non-preventable events in healthcare are a serious source of harm to patients and a large drain on NHS resources, according to research published in the British Medical Journal in March 2001. The study of 1, 014 patients at two acute hospitals found that more than 10% of patients experienced an adverse event during their hospital stay.

St Mary’s, Hammersmith and Imperial have a wealth of expertise in patient safety and healthcare quality. Units already run by the three organizations include the Clinical Safety Research Unit, the longest established patient safety research group in the UK, and the Dr Foster unit, which examines the quality of healthcare and addresses the impact of changes to patient care and their effect on outcomes in hospital (see Notes to Eds).

Since February 2006, Hammersmith Hospital, Imperial College and St Mary’s Hospital have together been exploring a proposal to create the UK’s first Academic Health Science Centre (AHSC), bringing together the delivery of clinical services, teaching and research through a new governance structure.

The AHSC partners were also selected as one of the UK’s 11 Biomedical Research Centres, in December 2006. The award guarantees the partners research funding of £19.5 million per annum for the next five years, and makes the West London BRC the leading centre for the UK. BRCs will be leaders in translating scientific research into benefits for patients.

Professor Stephen Smith, Principal of the Faculty of Medicine at Imperial College, and responsible for establishing the UK's first Academic Health Science Centre, welcomed the award made to the partners behind the AHSC. He said:

"Just as the AHSC will bring new treatments and innovations in healthcare to our patients, it is critical that we also undertake the best research to improve patient safety and service quality in the NHS, as it is this that provides a framework for an ever improving healthcare system."

He added: "The award of this national centre, on top of our Biomedical Research Centre status, recognises the strength of the AHSC approach, but more importantly its work will benefit NHS patients directly, both locally in west London and around the UK."

The Centre for NHS Patient Safety and Service Quality will initially focus on five areas:

* What information should be used within the NHS to enable clinicians and managers to thoroughly monitor and improve safety and quality.

* The potential of new technologies to improve the reliability and efficiency of healthcare, such as using pharmacy robots and computerized systems for ordering medication.

* How clinicians, managers and patients together, can have better safety skills and awareness of safety issues.

* The basic processes used within healthcare and how these can be made as reliable and resilient as possible.

* The role of managers in quality and safety, examining how their decisions affect the quality of care given to patients.

Abigail Smith | alfa
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