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BACKGROUND: The management of acute deterioration following surgery remains highly variable. Patients and families can play an important role in identifying early signs of deterioration but effective contribution to escalation of care can be practically difficult to achieve. This paper reports the enablers and barriers to the implementation of patient-led escalation systems found during a process evaluation of a quality improvement programme Rescue for Emergency Surgery Patients Observed to uNdergo acute Deterioration (RESPOND). METHODS: The research used ethnographic methods, including over 100 hours of observations on surgical units in three English hospitals in order to understand the everyday context of care. Observations focused on the coordination of activities such as handovers and how rescue featured as part of this. We also conducted 27 interviews with a range of clinical and managerial staff and patients. We employed a thematic analysis approach, combined with a theoretically focused implementation coding framework, based on Normalisation Process Theory. RESULTS: We found that organisational infrastructural support in the form of a leadership support and clinical care outreach teams with capacity were enablers in implementing the patient-led escalation system. Barriers to implementation included making changes to professional practice without discussing the value and legitimacy of operationalising patient concerns, and ensuring equity of use. We found that organisational work is needed to overcome patient fears about disrupting social and cultural norms. CONCLUSIONS: This paper reveals the need for infrastructural support to facilitate the implementation of a patient-led escalation system, and leadership support to normalise the everyday process of involving patients and families in escalation. This type of system may not achieve its goals without properly understanding and addressing the concerns of both nurses and patients.

Original publication




Journal article


Bmj qual saf

Publication Date



healthcare quality improvement, patient safety, qualitative research, safety culture, surgery