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NHS looks to nuclear industry for safety lessons

October 27, 2011

Workers are now cutting up some of the most hazardous areas of the site

NHS bosses are looking at Dounreay’s improving safety record to see what lessons can be learned to make hospitals safer for patients.

Dounreay has gone from being one of the poorest performing nuclear sites in the UK when it was taken over in 2005 by the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority to one of the best, with a 10-fold reduction in accident rates.

This week the site – one of the most hazardous in Scotland - exceeded 4.79 million man-hours, or 502 consecutive days, the longest period it has gone without an injury that keeps someone off their work more than three days.

The Scottish Government wants similar reductions in harm at Scotland's hospitals – and has set NHS bosses a target to cut patient deaths by 30 per cent.

The Scottish Patient Safety Programme spent two days at Dounreay to discover how the site performance improved..

“The NHS and Dounreay probably seem like strange bedfellows at first glance,” said Kevin Henderson, safety reporting and feedback manager at Dounreay Site Restoration Ltd.

“But we have something fundamental in common – neither of us wants anyone who comes through our doors to be harmed.

“The tasks each performs may be very different, but the safety culture of both is about people, their attitude and their behaviour towards safety. People are the same the world over, so we can learn from each other what works and what doesn’t.

“We could never claim to be ‘safe’, but we are moving in the right direction. Our accident rates are down, our reporting is mature and we’re working very hard to instill and nurture the leadership qualities needed to sustain continuous improvement across the whole site.”

The NHS team toured plants and met trade union safety reps, company officials and held talks with an inspector from the Office for Nuclear Regulation.

John Deighan, a Unite official who is convener of the trade union safety reps at Dounreay, said: “No single industry has all the answers or solutions. It’s only by looking across different sectors and learning from the best practice of each – the leadership, the training, the reporting, feedback , involvement of safety reps and so on - that you can begin to develop a culture of zero tolerance to harm.”

“We learned a lot by getting involved in the BP safety reps forum, for example. If there are things we’re doing here that the NHS can learn from, we’ll all benefit at the end of the day. It’s about learning from each other to continually drive up the standards in everyone’s workplace.”

 Maryanne Gillies, clinical governance manager at NHS Highland, was among the visitors. She said: “I was particularly impressed by Dounreay’s investment in safety and behavioural leadership, which has resulted in improved communication, an improved safety record, a reduction in incidents and a 'safety first' culture in all parts of the organisation.

“It was reassuring to note that the NHS improvement programmes are now using similar methods to improve patient care and care processes.

“The visiting NHS team took away many other key learning points that they will share with their local organisations and the wider NHS in Scotland.”
 

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