Objective: To describe the impacts of participating in confidential enquiry panels for the Confidential Enquiry into Stillbirths and Deaths in Infancy.
Design: Qualitative interview study.
Setting: The former northern health region of England.
Sample: Eighteen health professionals who had participated in at least one confidential enquiry panel.
Methods: Semistructured one-to-one interviews using purposive sampling; transcripts were analysed by identifying recurring themes. Data were organised and coded using NUD*IST.
Main outcome measures: Views on the impacts of participation on clinical practice and views on the strengths and limitations of confidential enquiries.
Results: Participants valued attendance at panels as a learning experience that provoked reflection on their own clinical practice. Participants felt that taking part had a positive impact on their clinical thinking and practice by increasing their awareness of standards of care. These impacts occurred through both the detailed examination of cases and the interaction with colleagues from different disciplines and hospitals. Learning impacts were cascaded to colleagues through informal discussion and teaching. Concrete examples of changes in practice at the organisational level, stimulated by panel attendance, were reported.
Conclusions: The confidential enquiry approach was supported not only as an effective way of assessing care but also as a valuable learning experience that motivated change in clinical practice. Local benefits of nationally coordinated confidential enquiries should be valued and supported in their future development. Wide multidisciplinary participation in enquiry panels coordinated through regional clinical networks should be promoted.