Doctors must ensure safe handover - not just during strike


For immediate release: Friday, 5 February 2016

Doctors are urged to ensure effective and safe handover of patient information so that continuity of care isn’t compromised. Practitioners need to keep this in mind, especially during next week’s industrial action, says medical defence organisation MDDUS.

Junior doctors in England plan to strike for 24 hours this Wednesday (February 10) after failing to reach an agreement with the government over a new contract. As a result, only emergency care will be offered.

MDDUS is reminding all doctors – not just those taking part in the strike – that poor handover procedures can impact on patient safety.

“We urge doctors to be alert to the possibility of harm arising during handovers at this time,” says MDDUS medical adviser Dr Naeem Nazem. “All doctors, not just those taking part in the strike, must ensure that they provide safe handover prior to, during and immediately after the industrial action.

“Handover failures are a major cause of preventable patient harm and can lead to delayed and incorrect diagnoses, repeated investigations and incorrect treatment. Doctors must remember their obligation to communicate effectively with colleagues and to be satisfied that suitable arrangements are in place to ensure safe and effective handover of patient care.”

Poor communication during handovers is a common factor in clinical negligence and regulatory actions encountered at MDDUS. “Crucial information can be missed in a busy setting and mistakes can happen in any situation that involves a handover,” says Dr Nazem.

“There is a significantly greater risk of error when patients are handed over between day and night teams, when they are admitted into hospital and when they are transferred to a new ward.

“Handovers are vital in order for doctors to prioritise work and ensure important laboratory results or particularly unwell patients are not missed. The doctor handing over at the end of their shift is the primary source of information for their colleague and should ensure they provide an update on clinically unstable patients and main tasks priorities.

“An effective and accurate handover protects the patient, ensures continuity of care and allows doctors to prioritise workload according to clinical need. Handovers shouldn’t be rushed and patients expect doctors to share relevant information effectively, so that their care is properly coordinated and managed.

“Equally, doctors covering shifts during the strike are reminded to work within their own competence and not feel pressurised into taking on an unmanageable volume of work or tasks they feel are beyond their expertise and may affect patient safety.”

The GMC in its guidance Leadership and management for all doctors states that doctors should encourage team members to cooperate and communicate effectively and “if you identify problems arising from poor communication or unclear responsibilities within or between teams, you should take action to deal with them.”

It also states: "You should not assume that someone else in the team will pass on information needed for patient care. You should check if you are unclear about the responsibility for communicating information, including during handover, to members of the healthcare team, other services involved in providing care and patients and those close to them."


For further information contact Richard Hendry on 0845 270 2034 or 07976 272266, or email

Note to editors

MDDUS (The Medical and Dental Defence Union of Scotland) is a medical and dental defence organisation providing access to professional indemnity and expert medico- and dento-legal advice for doctors, dentists and other healthcare professionals throughout the UK.

For further information on MDDUS go to



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