Board’s eye view: supporting second victims

Why healthcare providers need support when adverse incidents occur.

Why healthcare providers need support when adverse incidents occur.

Picture: iStock

Second victims are healthcare providers who are involved in unanticipated adverse patient events, such as clinical errors, or who have been traumatised by things that have happened at work (Scott et al 2009).

Many of us have been involved in adverse incidents in which a patient has been harmed and, given the ever-rising pressure on our crowded departments, the risk of such adverse incidents is increasing.

Such incidents range from patients falling off trollies or the development of pressure sores to the administration of the wrong medication or even death. 

Being involved in an adverse event can result in an intense emotional response. It can cause personal distress that affects the ability to sleep, job satisfaction and professional confidence.

Emergency nurses’ first experiences of errors can shape their future practice and affect their ability to cope in stressful situations. 

Workplace culture

One of the most important factors in supporting a second victim is the culture of a department or organisation. A culture in which incident reporting is encouraged is vital. Staff must know that, if errors occur, they can speak up without fear of isolation or reprimand.

Encouraging staff to talk and reflect on events at an early stage is important, and senior staff must be identified and trained to support individuals and others when things go wrong.

Managers in all departments should ensure that staff receive emotional support and are allowed to learn from errors. Without this support, retention of staff in an increasingly pressurised environment will become impossible.

About the author


Linsey Sheerin is clinical co-ordinator at the Royal Victoria Hospital, Belfast

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