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BACKGROUND: Acute inpatient mental health services report high levels of safety incidents. The application of patient safety theory has been sparse, particularly concerning interventions that proactively seek patient perspectives. OBJECTIVE(S): Develop and evaluate a theoretically based, digital monitoring tool to collect real-time information from patients on acute adult mental health wards about their perceptions of ward safety. DESIGN: Theory-informed mixed-methods study. A prototype digital monitoring tool was developed from a co-design approach, implemented in hospital settings, and subjected to qualitative and quantitative evaluation. SETTING AND METHODS: Phase 1: scoping review of the literature on patient involvement in safety interventions in acute mental health care; evidence scan of digital technology in mental health contexts; qualitative interviews with mental health patients and staff about perspectives on ward safety. This, alongside stakeholder engagement with advisory groups, service users and health professionals, informed the development processes. Most data collection was virtual. Phase 1 resulted in the technical development of a theoretically based digital monitoring tool that collected patient feedback for proactive safety monitoring. Phase 2: implementation of the tool in six adult acute mental health wards across two UK NHS trusts; evaluation via focused ethnography and qualitative interviews. Statistical analysis of WardSonar data and routine ward data involving construction of an hour-by-hour data set per ward, permitting detailed analysis of the use of the WardSonar tool. PARTICIPANTS: A total of 8 patients and 13 mental health professionals participated in Phase 1 interviews; 33 staff and 34 patients participated in Phase 2 interviews. INTERVENTIONS: Patients could use a web application (the WardSonar tool) to record real-time perceptions of ward safety. Staff could access aggregated, anonymous data to inform timely interventions. RESULTS: Coronavirus disease 2019 restrictions greatly impacted the study. Stakeholder engagement permeated the project. Phase 1 delivered a theory-based, collaboratively designed digital tool for proactive patient safety monitoring. Phase 2 showed that the tool was user friendly and broadly acceptable to patients and staff. The aggregated safety data were infrequently used by staff. Feasibility depended on engaged staff and embedding use of the tool in ward routines. There is strong evidence that an incident leads to increased probability of further incidents within the next 4 hours. This puts a measure on the extent to which social/behavioural contagion persists. There is weak evidence to suggest that an incident leads to a greater use of the WardSonar tool in the following hour, but none to suggest that ward atmosphere predicts future incidents. Therefore, how often patients use the tool seems to send a stronger signal about potential incidents than patients' real-time reports about ward atmosphere. LIMITATIONS: Implementation was limited to two NHS trusts. Coronavirus disease 2019 impacted design processes including stakeholder engagement; implementation; and evaluation of the monitoring tool in routine clinical practice. Higher uptake could enhance validity of the results. CONCLUSIONS: WardSonar has the potential to provide a valuable route for patients to communicate safety concerns. The WardSonar monitoring tool has a strong patient perspective and uses proactive real-time safety monitoring rather than traditional retrospective data review. FUTURE WORK: The WardSonar tool can be refined and tested further in a post Coronavirus disease 2019 context. STUDY REGISTRATION: This study is registered as ISRCTN14470430. FUNDING: This award was funded by the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR) Health and Social Care Delivery Research programme (NIHR award ref: NIHR128070) and is published in full in Health and Social Care Delivery Research; Vol. 12, No. 14. See the NIHR Funding and Awards website for further award information.

Original publication




Journal article


Health Soc Care Deliv Res

Publication Date





1 - 182


DIGITAL TECHNOLOGY, FEASIBILITY, INPATIENT, MENTAL HEALTH, MIXED METHODS STUDY, NURSING RESEARCH, PATIENT FEEDBACK, PATIENT SAFETY, STAKEHOLDER ENGAGEMENT, Humans, Patient Safety, Adult, Male, Female, COVID-19, Psychiatric Department, Hospital, United Kingdom, Qualitative Research, Middle Aged, Digital Technology, Mental Health Services, State Medicine, Patient Participation