Atrainability Blog

Here we share some thoughts, insights and ideas related to Human Factors Training

Near hits and the tip of the iceberg

When things go wrong in healthcare - administering the wrong drug, treating the wrong patient, operating on the wrong site or patient - these are the mistakes we see. Sadly, avoidable harm is not decreasing and the annualised cost increasing in our litigious society. £2 billion outgoings for NHS Resolution in 2018, up from £1.7 billion the previous year.

What people often don't do is report the near misses, or near hits as we prefer to call them.

There's plenty of understandable reasons for not reporting the near hits.

Firstly, nothing has actually gone wrong. It's hard to report a near hit when it didn't result in a bad outcome for the patient.

Secondly, reporting systems tend to be very cumbersome and time-consuming; not something you would look forward to at the end of a long shift.

The boxes within these reporting systems don't always fit the scenario. When no actual harm has taken place, some of the older systems don't have a way to report the near hit from their drop-down boxes.

Another major reason healthcare professionals fail to report the near hits is because nothing tends to happen when the issue is raised. All too often, there's no reply to acknowledge the report or even say thank you.

If there is an acknowledgement, frequently nothing is seen to change. From a management point of view this can be frustrating because not all solutions can be visible. We know of a case of senior management following due process with a case of bullying but they can't publish that they put a warning on a personal file because naturally that is confidential. But staff see no change in behaviour of the culprit so don't waste time offering follow-up reports!

One more reason; when you report near hits, you don't always feel safe.

We are aware of one situation, involving a clinician working with a new colleague. They were chatting together, slightly distracted, and the new team member got the controlled drugs out in a different way.

The clinician knows they should have checked before administering the drugs, but they were distracted. They gave the wrong one of the two colourless solutions to the patient. Fortunately, there was no lasting harm to the patient, but this was a near hit.

The clinician decided to report the near hit. They were aware that the same had happened with some of their colleagues in the past. Human factors were involved, with a weakness in the drug-labelling system making the error easier to occur.

The result? After reporting the near hit, the clinician came under scrutiny from senior management. They were not thanked for raising the near hit. Instead, the management started looking into how many near hits the clinician had previously reported, comparing their frequency of reporting to management.

The irony in this is, they made the clinician who reported the near hit feel victimised. Yet management still went ahead and changed the process, to reduce the risk of the same near hit retaking place. Dishonest management in our opinion.

When I was flying jumbo jets with my former employer, there was a company policy of error reporting ethics. If you made a genuine human error and confessed it, you would not suffer any disciplinary action or consequence to your career.

If however you deliberately broke the rules or made an error then tried to hide it, you would be facing due process. And quite rightly too.

Airlines too, recognise the tip of the iceberg issue. If a near hit is reported, it's likely to be part of a much bigger problem, hiding below the surface.

The more comfortable thing for management to do is to discipline the last person involved; the nurse, doctor or pilot receives punitive action as a result.

The hard thing to do is to get to the true root cause of the issue.

Why did the person make the mistake that resulted in a near hit? Perhaps they were not adequately trained in the procedure. Indeed the process itself could be unfit for purpose. The staff member might have been working for many hours without a break. They could have been experiencing personal issues at home, with a sick or dying relative, distracting them from the task at hand. We know of one recent case where this was a major factor.

In the long term, it saves you money to take the hard option and tackle the system issue which may be indicated by the hidden mass of the iceberg, floating below the surface.

So please report near-misses or as we say regard them as near-hits. The message for managers is please encourage reporting and respond with compassion for the reporter. The bulk of the iceberg represents a threat to us all.

Continue reading
176 Hits

The familiar tale of high staff turnover



I've been chatting to various clients and a regular subject that we return to is high staff turnover. 

Many organisations do not perform exit surveys and so understanding why people leave is a problem to start with. Perhaps they don't really want to know. It's easier to blame the NHS and pressure of work, targets etc.



For example, Atrainability worked closely with a world famous specialist hospital a little while ago which was suffering high turnover of junior nurses in a particular department.


The view from the top was: 

"The nurses come here to get our good name on their CV's and then move on."


However, anecdotally people were leaving because it was not a great place to work.

Team-working was verbally espoused but reality was somewhat different. Work as imagined was quite different to work as done depending on your level in the hierarchy. 

One nurse told us she had worked her entire shift without any offers of help, breaks or support while the band 6 and 7 nurses had a nice relaxing time. You can imagine the atmosphere when we presented our findings. 


This is by no means unique as many of you will know. 

This very week I've listened to my best friend's wife explaining that she is burned out and leaving the profession the she loves. The reasons? She is a specialist sister in intensive care who is often told to work in other departments. She has been sent to A & E, theatres, wards and even the other sites in her trust which is 20 miles away. 

She has simply had enough. 

What a tragedy which is personal, institutional and cultural for her and us all. 


In London there are 8000 nursing vacancies and huge doctor numbers too, so making your job one that people want to come to must be worth working on? 

Staff retention rather than repeated training costs is a very worthwhile investment, and turning from a Blame Culture to a Just Culture is a crucial start. 

A worthwhile part of team-working is delving in to emotional intelligence and a fundamental concept within that is of course self-awareness. 


Get in touch and discuss with us how we could help your teams, including the senior level of course. 


Trevor Dale, Human Factors Specialist

Continue reading
1331 Hits

Human Factors Courses for Foundation Doctors

The General Medical Council has reflected the importance of recognising Human Factors in the development of generic professional capabilities for post graduate medical curricula. 

The context for this is the GMC's core guidance for all doctors, good medical practice, which sets out what is expected of doctors including communication, partnership and working with patients. (National Quality Board Human Factors Concordat 2013) 

Many Deaneries have incorporated Atrainability's Human Factors modules in their curriculum, since 2012. The list is growing year by year and the repeat bookings speak for themselves. 


Atrainability are now taking bookings for Foundation Doctors Human Factors Training for the next academic year

Human Factors is strongly recommended to become a mandatory part of Medical Education and our courses match the Medical Leadership Competency Framework.

Focus points include: 

• how and why errors are made and practical tools to avoid and trap them 

• safe decision making during a stressful day 

• situation awareness - recognising the signs that things are going wrong and dealing with that situation 

• effective escalation - overcoming the barriers to open communication and shared understanding in a high workload environment 

• dealing with difficult people including, sadly, colleagues 


We have over 6 years' experience in delivering training aimed at the next generation of healthcare professionals in a manner that is tailored to their educational needs. 

The Human Factors behaviours related to safety are crucial both for the patient and also the professional confidence within the Doctor while they are in the most high risk part of their education. 

If you have already finalised training for 2018/2019, we'd be happy to discuss your training programme for the next academic year.

Some sample feedback from recent participants: 


"Outstanding course, incredibly useful" 


"This should be mandatory! Very interesting to learn how other industries such as aviation can apply to medicine" 


"Leadership & management is crucial but often overlooked in medical training. Clear, practical advice that I can start putting into practice now." 


"Useful to receive formal teaching in things that it seems we are expected to already be aware of e.g. challenging authority. Good presentation, kept engaged throughout." 


"Important concepts to reflect on, extremely useful to be exposed to this early on in our career" 


We would be happy to discuss your individual needs at your convenience. Please contact us here.

Continue reading
1590 Hits

A Situational Violation



Picture yourself in this situation; you're an Anaesthetist who has been called to attend to a patient who needs an emergency C-section. There's a small window to act fast and save the baby, but you notice that the patient isn't wearing an identity wristband. Would you anaesthetise?



Before we go any further, consider this similar situation before making a decision on what your course of action would be. Again, a real-life story that we've been made aware of recently. 

A small boy and his mother are rushed into a busy A&E department at an NHS Trust, the boy having been mauled by a dog. The child is quickly referred to the Trauma Team and there is no doubt that they have the right child; he's covered in blood, bite marks, screaming and the mother is upset as you'd expect. They do what needs to be done, they do their jobs, clean wounds and patch him up. Afterwards, they find out he's got the wrong wristband on. 

The hospital decides to deal with this error with disciplinary action against the Clinicians. 

Take a step back and you can see how a small mistake like this can occur. A busy department, a small boy screaming, arms flailing about…he requires urgent medical attention and it's clear what he needs; but why go straight to disciplinary action, and if not a disciplinary then how should it be dealt with? 

Treating individuals of any specialty, nursing or clinician like responsible professionals is almost guaranteed to have a much better outcome. This incident should have been approached as something to learn from, a discussion point. A team conversation in which this error is highlighted and shared. An opportunity for staff to explore all the circumstances which led to the name check being missed, to think about the likelihood that this could happen again, and then if necessary, think about steps that can reasonably be taken to avoid a repetition of this error. 

Using a risk matrix can help differentiate between low frequency events with very serious untoward outcomes and those with much less serious outcomes. And of course, the risk of not taking action must also be assessed to give a balanced perspective.


Let's think again about the mother who needed an emergency C-section. 

On this occasion, the Anaesthetist refused to anaesthetise the patient because of the missing wristband, which lead to a ten minute delay while they got a wristband on her. The result of this, was that the precious opportunity to get the baby out safe was missed. The child is now permanently brain damaged. 

The easy thing to do is blame the Anaesthetist. He or she could have acted differently, taken a risk, broken a rule to act fast and then justified his/her actions later. Or perhaps the finger of blame points at the nurse or doctor who was responsible for making sure the patient had a wristband on? 


Of course, there's other elements to muddy the waters. 

What does this individual normally do? Flout rules or routinely demonstrate good practice? Do they have previous history which led to this particular decision? Were they previously involved in, or even just exposed, to a patient misidentification that resulted in serious harm? 

Patient misidentification is known to contribute to errors and is a cause of patient safety incidents; including operating on the wrong patient, or performing the wrong procedure, or performing surgery / an intervention on the wrong body part (e.g., right vs. left knee replacement operation). 


So what's the answer here? 

It's a tragic story and an upsetting, ongoing experience for all involved. We feel however that it highlights how easy it is for leaders to unintentionally get it wrong and in doing so, stopping professionals from getting it right. 

One major factor in high risk decision making has to be whether your front line team feel safe and supported. Now, what that means to us is that a management system needs to be set up and run in such a way that makes front line staff feel safe. This must be borne out in reality, as opposed to being implied and then not acted on when the time comes;


"Well of course you're safe with us, we operate a no-blame culture"


Saying it doesn't make it true. 


Did the Anaesthesist feel safe? 

If frontline staff feel they have to protect themselves first from disciplinary action or being struck off then that's how hospitals end up with staff who will refuse to do something that in hindsight would have been the "sensible" action. The sense of covering one's own back is a normal human reaction to a perceived threat and it is a clear signal that all is not well with the system. 

If individuals and teams feel safe and supported it will reduce stress and they will feel enabled and empowered to make better decisions. This not only means better care and outcomes for patients, but also builds trust and team morale. 


Join us for the our next Masterclass in London.

Atrainability are now working alongside Quality Improvement Clinic to offer a one-day Masterclass which combines Human Factors and QI Science which will be running on 25 June 2018 in London. Read more about the masterclass here or Register for the event here.

Continue reading
1872 Hits