Defining avoidable healthcare-associated harm in prisons: A mixed-method development study

Richard N. Keers*, Verity Wainwright, Joy McFadzean, Kate Davies, Stephen M. Campbell, Caroline Stevenson, Thomas Purchase, Jennifer Shaw, Andrew Carson-Stevens

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background Reducing avoidable healthcare-associated harm is a global health priority. Progress in evaluating the burden and aetiology of avoidable harm in prisons is limited compared with other healthcare sectors. To address this gap, this study aimed to develop a definition of avoidable harm to facilitate future epidemiological studies in prisons. Methods Using a sequential mixed methods study design we first characterised and reached consensus on the types and avoidability of patient harm in prison healthcare involving analysis of 151 serious prison incidents reported to the Strategic Executive Information System (StEIS) followed by in-depth nominal group (NG) discussions with four former service users and four prison professionals. Findings of the NG discussions and StEIS analysis were then synthesised and discussed among the research team and study oversight groups to develop an operational definition of avoidable harm in prison healthcare which was subsequently tested and validated using prison patient safety incident report data derived from the National Reporting and Learning System (NRLS). Results Analysis of StEIS incident reports and NG discussions identified important factors influencing avoidable harm which reflected the unique prison setting, including health care delivery issues and constraints associated with the secure environment which limited access to care. These findings informed the development of a new working two-tier definition of avoidable harm using appropriate and timely intervention, which included an additional assessment of harm avoidability taking into the account the prison regime and environment. The definition was compatible with the NRLS incident report narratives and illustrated how the prison environment may influence identification of avoidable harm and judgements of avoidability. Conclusions We have developed a working definition of avoidable harm in prison health care that enables consideration of caveats associated with prison environments and systems. Our definition enables future studies of the safety of prison healthcare to standardise outcome measurement.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0282021
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number3 March
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2023
Externally publishedYes


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