Objective: Recent critiques of incident reporting suggest that its role in managing safety has been over emphasized. The objective of this study was to examine the perceived effectiveness of incident reporting in improving safety in mental health and acute hospital settings by asking staff about their perceptions and experiences.
Design: Qualitative research design using documentary analysis and semi-structured interviews.
Setting: Two large teaching hospitals in London; one providing acute and the other mental healthcare.
Participants: Sixty-two healthcare practitioners with experience of reporting and analysing incidents.
Results: Incident reporting was perceived as having a positive effect on safety, not only by leading to changes in care processes but also by changing staff attitudes and knowledge. Staff discussed examples of both instrumental and conceptual uses of the knowledge generated by incident reports. There are difficulties in using incident reports to improve safety in healthcare at all stages of the incident reporting process. Differences in the risks encountered and the organizational systems developed in the two hospitals to review reported incidents could be linked to the differences we found in attitudes to incident reporting between the two hospitals.
Conclusion: Incident reporting can be a powerful tool for developing and maintaining an awareness of risks in healthcare practice. Using incident reports to improve care is challenging and the study highlighted the complexities involved and the difficulties faced by staff in learning from incident data.