A brief overview of human factors application to improve patient safety

Peter Brennan 

Consultant Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeon, Portsmouth, UK


This short presentation will discuss how by applying human factors to our day to day practice, we can improve patient safety through enhanced personal and team performance.  After a brief overview of the scale of human and medical error, personal factors including the importance of regular food, hydration, effect of emotion and tiredness on performance will be considered.

Effective team working will be discussed including the importance of a good briefing, safe and effective communication, improving situational awareness, and the effects of distraction. Finally lowering authority gradients will be addressed, to empower all team members to be able to speak up if concerned about any aspects of patient safety without fear.



Peter Brennan is a Consultant Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeon with an interest in head and neck cancer and reconstruction, working in Portsmouth, UK. He has a personal chair in Surgery in recognition of his extensive research and education profile. To date he has over 600 publications including more than 60 on human factors (HF) and patient safety. He is editor of 5 major specialty surgical textbooks and is very proud to be Lead Editor for the recently published Gray’s Surgical Anatomy. This new authoritative textbook begins with a chapter on minimising error in the operating theatre.

Peter is recent past Chairman of the MRCS Committee (the exam required to enter higher specialty training in surgery in the UK and Ireland) and is the current MRCS Research Lead, driving up quality assurance for this important examination. He is an external examiner for surgery in Hong Kong and Kuwait.

His extensive HF work, collaborating with airline pilots, UK National Air Traffic Services (NATS) and more recently the Royal Air Force aerobatic team (Red Arrows), has resulted in many changes to practice, better team working, reducing hierarchy, patient safety improvements across  medical specialties, as well as changes in MRCS  delivery internationally.

In 2019, Peter was awarded a PhD entitled ‘Applying HF to Improve Patient Safety’ – likely to be the first of its kind in healthcare. He works with national organisations including the Royal Colleges of Surgeons, and UK Regulator, The General Medical Council to drive up safety and better working experiences.


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