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BACKGROUND: Failure to rescue (FTR) denotes mortality from post-operative complications after surgery with curative intent. High-volume, low-mortality units have similar complication rates to others, but have lower FTR rates. Effective response to the deteriorating post-operative patient is therefore critical to reducing surgical mortality. Resilience Engineering might afford a useful perspective for studying how the management of deterioration usually succeeds and how resilience can be strengthened. METHODS: We studied the response to the deteriorating patient following emergency abdominal surgery in a large surgical emergency unit, using the Functional Resonance Analysis Method (FRAM). FRAM focuses on the conflicts and trade-offs inherent in the process of response, and how staff adapt to them, rather than on identifying and eliminating error. 31 semi-structured interviews and two workshops were used to construct a model of the response system from which conclusions could be drawn about possible ways to strengthen system resilience. RESULTS: The model identified 23 functions, grouped into five clusters, and their respective variability. The FRAM analysis highlighted trade-offs and conflicts which affected decisions over timing, as well as strategies used by staff to cope with these underlying tensions. Suggestions for improving system resilience centred on improving team communication, organisational learning and relationships, rather than identifying and fixing specific system faults. CONCLUSION: FRAM can be used for analysing surgical work systems in order to identify recommendations focused on strengthening organisational resilience. Its potential value should be explored by empirical evaluation of its use in systems improvement.

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Appl ergon

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Emergency surgery, FRAM, Failure to rescue, Patient safety, Resilience engineering, Humans, Mortality, Postoperative Complications