Learning from the NHS Safety Thermometer

The NHS Safety Thermometer has been an unprecedented, courageous and positive step for England and has given us new insights into harm within healthcare. It has provided an opportunity to collect data across the health economy and measure the proportion of patients who are ‘harm free’. In 2015, four years after the birth of the Safety Thermometer, an evaluation was commissioned and carried out by the University of Leicester to understand how organisations engage with the Safety Thermometer.

Evaluation of NHS Safety Thermometer Data Collection and Use

This evaluation provides some interesting reflections from a sample of 19 participating organisations. Findings from the evaluation are common to those found in other studies of measurement systems. The evidence base suggests that measurement is a social act leading to varied application of guidance and definitions (Dixon-Woods, 2014), which further emphasised the importance of only using Safety Thermometer data for local improvement and not benchmarking comparison. You can learn more about this about this from the paper ‘What Counts?’ by Prof Mary Dixon Woods:

What Counts? An Ethnographic Study of Infection Data Reported to a Patient Safety Program

The evaluation has also been successful in building learning around organisational challenges that maybe experienced when trying to build a culture of measurement for improvement rather than measurement for judgment. The Safety Thermometer is not concerned with attribution or blame but simply understanding what proportion of patients are effect by harm and measuring change.

Engaging staff with the data they spend valuable time each month collecting is something that needs to be a top priority for both organisations leaders and system managers to ensure that time and effort in data collection is not wasted. To help support this a number of interactive analysis tools are available online which can be used to share learning around Safety Thermometer data each month.

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Online analysis tools

Time commitments and resource in collecting Safety Thermometer data is also a known challenge for some organisations and this has been reflected within our evaluations. Since the early launch of the Safety Thermometer we have been continually working to reduce the time burden of data collection, developing a number of alternative online platforms to replace the paper and excel methods of old. We are now pleased to announce the release of a Safety Thermometer App which can be used on mobile phones and tablet devices to effectively collect and submit data. The app works offline and only requires internet or Wifi access when submitting data officially so it offer great functionality to collect data offline both on wards and in the community, reducing the need for papers forms and duplication of work load. A recent case study from Mid Yorkshire NHS Trust shows how they have seen a huge reduction in staff time and staff costs by converting over to the Safety Thermometer App for data collection and submission.

Implementation of the Safety Thermometer App at Mid Yorkshire Hospitals NHS Trust


Safety Thermometer App Download and Guidance