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New international study on the atmospherics of safety in hospitals

22 February 2024

Dr Tracey Rosell (centre), with Professor Markus Hällgren and Associate Professor, Sophie Jané, of the Umeå School of Business and Economics, Sweden.

Safe atmospheres in hospitals, which can help avoid patient harm, are the focus of a new international study led by Dr Tracey Rosell at Cardiff Business School.

With the World Health Organization flagging medical errors as a leading global cause of death and disability worldwide, this research aims to understand how people can create safe atmospheres.

It builds upon an initial study conducted by Postdoctoral Researcher, Dr Tracey Rosell, which highlighted the importance of atmosphere in operating theatres. This study showed that the atmosphere people experienced directly effected what they thought, and how they acted and interacted with one another.

This new study will attempt to understand the interplay between atmospheres and safety in more detail. It aims to understand where ‘safe’ and ‘unsafe’ atmospheres come from. It also aims to understand how atmospheres can be engineered in ways that improve patient safety.

Previous research highlights the increasing importance of these factors for clinical teams, and the problems culminating from NHS workers not feeling able to speak up about problems. The significance of this research is underscored by recent incidents like the Lucy Letby case and reports of sexual harassment in Wales and England, shedding light on what can happen in an environment where voices go unheard.

Dr Tracey Rosell says: “I realised that the atmosphere people create in operating theatres can support our frontline staff to potentially prevent patient harm, and to improve their own and colleagues’ wellbeing. I was keen to find ways to highlight this – because although surgical teams may have awareness of their ability to create, or destroy, safe atmospheres, the potential for doing so has not been identified or adopted by the hospitals they work for.”

She added:

“Enabling people to reproduce safe atmospheres would give us another means to address avoidable patient harm and to improve our care of frontline healthcare workers.”
Tracey Rosell

The new study aims to develop our understanding of:

  • safe atmospheres and how they are created, destroyed, recovered, and reproduced.
  • what the outcomes of creating safe atmospheres are.

Due to initial evidence that suggested there are national differences in creating safe atmospheres, the study will investigate how practices and systems differ worldwide to support or prevent the intentional use of atmosphere. This will help decision-makers in the NHS, and other countries’ healthcare systems, to consider if they can enhance hospital training and care processes, to improve patient safety and employee wellbeing.

The study was recently launched at the Ethnography in Extremis symposium held at Umeå University, Umeå Sweden on 7-8 February 2024.

If you are interested in taking part and reading more about the study, please get in touch.

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