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Dr Christopher Sirrs, Wellcome Trust Fellowship

Hazardous Hospitals: Cultures of Safety in NHS General Hospitals, c.1960-2012

In recent decades, the ‘safety’ of patients and staff has become a pressing concern in the British National Health Service (NHS).

Risk management has become an integral feature of modern hospital care, with NHS authorities and hospital managers establishing a multitude of systems and processes to protect people from harm.

These include policies around patient consultation, to systems for reporting incidents, alerting people about risks, and guidance for preventing falls and nosocomial (originating in a hospital) infections.

However, while ‘safety’ has become central to NHS hospital care, little is understood about how and why these ideas and values evolved, and spread throughout the health service.

Dr Christopher Sirrss Fellowship, Hazardous Hospitals, explores how ideas and practices around ‘safety’ have developed in NHS hospitals from 1960 to the present.

Attitudes, values and behaviours

Through his Fellowship, he will analyse the development, promotion and institutionalisation of ‘safety cultures.’ This includes attitudes, values and behaviours attuned to safety, as well as the systems and processes that have supported and sustained them.

His project examines safety from the perspective of both patients and staff, acknowledging that ‘patient safety’ and ‘staff safety’ are interlinked, and that safety concerns pervade the entire hospital.

A National Union of Public Employees (NUPE) campaign poster from the early 1980s

A National Union of Public Employees (NUPE) campaign poster from the early 1980s

In his Fellowship, Dr Sirrs will ask the following questions:
  • What defines the ‘safety culture’ of NHS hospitals? How have these ‘safety cultures’ varied?

  • How was ‘safety’ in hospitals assessed, and in what ways did it come to the attention of NHS managers and policymakers after 1960?

  • How did NHS managers promote safety among their staff?

  • What role did groups such as patient organisations, safety campaigners and the press play in depicting, challenging and promoting reform of hospital ‘safety cultures’?

The project draws upon archival research as well as oral history interviews with a wide range of individuals.


Find out more about the project