An exploration of the implementation of open disclosure of adverse events in the UK: a scoping review and qualitative exploration

Yvonne Frances Birks, Reema Harrison, Kate Bosanquet, Jill Hall, Melissa Harden, Vikki Entwistle, Ian Watt, Peter Walsh, Sarah Jane Ronaldson, David Roberts, Joy Ann Adamson, John Wright, Rick Iedema

Research output: Book/ReportCommissioned report


Background: In 2009 the UK National Patient Safety Agency relaunched its Being Open framework to facilitate the open disclosure of adverse events to patients in the NHS. The implementation of the framework has been, and remains, challenging in practice.
Aim: The aim of this work was to both critically evaluate and extend the current evidence base relating to open disclosure, with a view to supporting the implementation of a policy of open disclosure of adverse events in the NHS. Methods: This work was conducted in three phases. The first phase comprised two focused systematic literature reviews, one summarising empirical research on the effectiveness of interventions to enhance open disclosure, and a second, broader scoping review, looking at reports of current opinion and practice and wider knowledge. The second phase involved primary qualitative research with the objective of generating new knowledge about UK-based stakeholders' views on their role in and experiences of open disclosure. Stakeholder interviews were analysed using the framework approach. The third phase synthesised the findings from the first two phases to inform and develop a set of short pragmatic suggestions for NHS trust management, to facilitate the implementation and evaluation of open disclosure.
Results: A total of 610 papers met the inclusion criteria for the broad review. A large body of literature discussed open disclosure from a number of related, but sometimes conflicted, perspectives. Evidential gaps persist and current practice is based largely on expert consensus rather than evidence. There appears to be a tension between the existing pragmatic guidance and the more in-depth critiques of what being consistent and transparent in health care really means. Eleven papers met the inclusion criteria for the more focused review. There was little evidence for the effectiveness of disclosure alone on organisational or individual outcomes or of interventions to promote and support open disclosure. Interviews with stakeholders identified strong support for the basic principle of being honest with patients or relatives when someone was seriously harmed by health care. In practice however, the issues are complex and there is confusion about a number of issues relating to disclosure policies in the UK. The interviews generated insights into the difficulties perceived within health care at individual and institutional levels, in relation to fully implementing the Being Open guidance.
Conclusions: There are several clear strategies that the NHS could learn from to implement and sustain a policy of openness. Literature reviews and stakeholder accounts both identified the potential benefits of a culture that was generally more open (not just retrospectively open about serious harm). Future work could usefully evaluate the impact of disclosure on legal challenges within the NHS, best practice in models of support and training for open disclosure, embedding disclosure conversations in critical incident analysis and disclosure of less serious events.
Original languageEnglish
PublisherNHS National Institute for Health Research
Commissioning bodyNational Institute for Health Research
Number of pages195
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2014

Publication series

NameHealth Services and Delivery Research
PublisherNational Institute for Health Research
ISSN (Print)2050-4349
ISSN (Electronic)2050-4357


  • National Health Service
  • NHS
  • patient safety
  • patient safety incidents
  • open disclosure
  • Being Open
  • adverse events
  • health care
  • transparency
  • patients

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