Threats to patient safety in primary care reported by older people with multimorbidity: baseline findings from a longitudinal qualitative study and implications for intervention

Rebecca Hays, Gavin Daker-White, Aneez Esmail, Wendy Barlow, Brian Minor, Benjamin Brown, Thomas Blakeman, Caroline Sanders, Peter Bower

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In primary care, older patients with multimorbidity (two or more long-term conditions) are especially likely to experience patient safety incidents. Risks to safety in this setting arise as a result of patient, staff and system factors; particularly where these interact or fail to do so.
Recent research and policy highlight the important contribution patients can make to their safety. Older patients with multimorbidity may have the most to gain from increasing their involvement but before interventions can be developed to support them to improve their safety, more needs to be known about how this is threatened and how patients respond to perceived threats.
We sought to identify and describe threats to patient safety in primary care among older people with multimorbidity, to provide a better understanding of how these are experienced and to inform the development of interventions to reduce risks to safety.
Twenty-six older people, aged 65 or over, with multimorbidity were recruited to a longitudinal qualitative study. At baseline, data on their health and healthcare were collected through semi-structured interviews. Data were analysed thematically, using a framework developed from a previous synthesis of qualitative studies of patient safety in primary care.
Threats to safety were organised into six themes, across three domains of health and care. These encompassed all aspects of the patient journey, from access to everyday management. Across the journey, many issues arose due to poor communication, and uncoordinated care
created extra burdens for patients and healthcare staff. Patients’ sense of safety and trust in their care providers were especially threatened when they felt their needs were ignored, or when they perceived responses from staff as inappropriate or insensitive.
For older patients with multimorbidity, safety is intrinsically linked to the challenges people face when managing health conditions, navigating the healthcare system, and negotiating care. We consider the implications of this for the development of interventions to reduce threats to safety. Potential patient-centred mechanisms for include providing patients with more realistic expectations for primary care, and supporting them to communicate their needs and concerns more effectively.
Original languageEnglish
JournalBMC Health Services Research
Publication statusPublished - 21 Nov 2017


  • patient safety
  • primary care
  • multimorbidity
  • older people
  • qualitative study


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