Transparency and openness of airlines should be a lesson to the NHS which is stuck in the dark ages

Today’s news about the results of an inquiry into what some are calling the greatest scandal to hit the NHS – the failure of the health service to listen when its own people are warning that patient safety is at risk – is truly shocking. 

For years airlines have been addressing this very issue and sadly the NHS will cause many more deaths today than the entire commercial airline industry going back decades. To continue the comparison if the NHS was an airline it would be out of business now. 

It’s baffling how the people running health services can’t understand that the only way you evolve and get better at protecting lives is to first acknowledge your failings then, in a supportive environment, learn from those shortcomings. 

It comes down to what we call “just culture”, where everyone within an organisation from the board of directors down feels confident and empowered to voice concerns if they have them. 

It’s a culture of learning from even the smallest of event and empowering every member of the company to report the events. In the just culture there is no concept of trivial report, all information is valuable and every one plays their part in making the operation safe. This is the crucial factor in making workplaces safer – whether it’s the flight deck of a commercial airline or an A&E department – and it’s what we are passionate about here and design into every piece of software. 

Systems like our own SafetyNet enable airlines to record literally hundreds and thousands of occurrences which, in isolation, may mean little. However when that data is looked at in detail and over weeks, months and years, those reports can point towards systematic problems and, with the right analysis, remedied before tragedy can strike. 

Right now the NHS is entangled in a damaging perpetual loop of mistrust, suspicion and – worst of all – blame culture. Doctors and nurses are terrified to speak out for fear of their livelihoods, which is hardly surprising given many who have decided to take a stand and become whistleblowers about unsafe practices or cost-cutting measures endangering lives have so often found their careers dumped on the scrapheap. 

Vistair’s focus is, and always will be, to help airlines become safer organisations with systems built around “just culture”. 

It’s high time the politicians got behind this to drag the NHS out of the dark ages.  As an organisation it needs to embrace the openness and transparency displayed daily by airlines and put an end to the “blame game” that is costing lives.