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Nadia Knows: What to do when your team makes mistakes

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I had a rude awakening in my first full week of work. A patient had cardiac arrest due to a series of errors made by the team.

What’s your advice on:

  • How to pick yourself up when you know a patient has been harmed because of mistakes?
  • How to avoid having the finger pointed at you?

NADIA SAYS:

After a patient has a cardiac arrest, it always helps to debrief – for members of the team to come to terms with what’s happened. It can be really good to understand what each team member was thinking before and during the event. If there’s someone in the team that you feel comfortable to approach, I recommend requesting a debrief session to help you process what happened.

If there’s a particular error weighing on your mind that was made by a specific team member, consider speaking to them privately to gain clarity on what happened. The GMC’s recommendations are here – that you speak to the doctor concerned, and they’ll only get involved if repeated mistakes or fraud is involved.

Remember that human error is inevitable. Doctors aren’t superheroes, and it’s important that we do our best to learn from mistakes – our own and our team’s. Try and understand why a mistake happened, so that you can avoid it in the future.

A lot of doctors are scared of being unfairly blamed for a poor patient outcome – even more so after the Bawa-Garba case. Accidents are rarely caused by one person or for a single reason. It’s unfair to blame one person for a bad outcome when there are multiple system failures. My advice here would be to aim to be more aware of your working environment, so that you can identify systemic weaknesses early, and prepare for mistakes before they happen. This  means documenting system failures and your proposed solutions as you find them, so that you have proof that you’ve taken action to minimise patient harm.

But above all, don’t forget to rest, to eat, and to take care of yourself. Remember that you’re striving to give the best care you can – but things can’t always be in your control.

If you have a question for Nadia let us know anonymously here.
Please remember that nothing you read here should be taken as professional advice and are merely the personal views of the author. If you feel you need to, please seek help from a support service. You can contact the Samaritans on 116 123.
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