Major incidents, catastrophic events or crises in the health and social care sectors are rare. But when they happen, the consequences and fallout can be devastating – not only for those directly impacted, but also a wide range of people within the organisation, the organisation itself and its stakeholders.

Whortlon Hall and Winterbourne View; Mid-Staffordshire’s hospital deaths; maternity hospital baby deaths; and the contaminated blood scandal … are among a number of such serious incidents.

In managing emerging crises, actions taken during the early stages are crucial to responding effectively, efficiently and for the benefit of all those affected.

It’s likely that there will be vulnerable people at the centre of any incident. Rightly, their safety and wellbeing will be the first priority. Organisations must act quickly to help those who are personally or directly affected and who may need individual support or care.

At this time, there is an expectation on organisations to be open, transparent and candid – and to come to early conclusions about what may (or may not) have gone wrong. But this must also be balanced against due process, avoiding premature/inappropriately assumed fault (on behalf of individual staff and/or the organisation) and maintaining wider business resilience. It’s important that the desire for rapid answers doesn’t undermine the ability to identify the core issues.

Organisations should focus on their human, legal, regulatory and reputational response. This should be linked to a separate communications strategy.

Swift and effective responses can minimise disruption to the delivery of your services and protect long-term operational and financial viability. Managing service users’, regulators’ and other stakeholders’ perception of your organisation is paramount.

Key priorities should include:

Immediate response

● Safety – satisfying that services are safe for service users, clients, staff and others affected by it

● Changes – identifying immediate changes/lessons to be learnt

● Resource - allocating appropriate senior focus

● Maintaining delivery of the organisation’s wider services

Supporting staff

● Those directly involved through the investigation process

● More widely while investigations are underway

● Managing communications to and from them

Upholding your organisation’s vision and values, such as

● Being responsive, open and transparent

● Excellence and partnership working

● Service user/client focus

Complying with statutory and professional duties

In the medium to longer term, there will be other priorities including learning the lessons of what may have gone wrong, resolving any conflicts of interest, managing commercial and financial interests (including contractual obligations) and appropriate mitigation of liabilities and sanctions.

The organisation’s strategy should provide a framework that encourages it to be positive, pro-active and able to learn. It should also be flexible enough to deal with sudden changes as events unfold.

Throughout, the primary aim must be to balance truth and integrity with deliverable outcomes. A serious incident does not need to bring an organisation to its knees.

Bevan Brittan is the award-winning market-leader in the provision of legal and regulatory advisory services to organisations delivering and providing healthcare services within the UK.

For further details of how Bevan Brittan has supported health and social care providers, please visit: http://www.bevanbrittan.com/expertise/markets/independent-health/

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