How do healthcare providers use national audit data for improvement?

Grazia Antonacci*, Julie Whitney, Matthew Harris, Julie E. Reed

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Substantial resources are invested by Health Departments worldwide in introducing National Clinical Audits (NCAs). Yet, there is variable evidence on the NCAs’ effectiveness and little is known on factors underlying the successful use of NCAs to improve local practice. This study will focus on a single NCA (the National Audit of Inpatient Falls -NAIF 2017) to explore: (i) participants’ perspectives on the NCA reports, local feedback characteristics and actions undertaken following the feedback underpinning the effective use of the NCA feedback to improve local practice; (ii) reported changes in local practice following the NCA feedback in England and Wales. 

Methods: Front-line staff perspectives were gathered through interviews. An inductive qualitative approach was used. Eighteen participants were purposefully sampled from 7 of the 85 participating hospitals in England and Wales. Analysis was guided by constant comparative techniques. 

Results: Regarding the NAIF annual report, interviewees valued performance benchmarking with other hospitals, the use of visual representations and the inclusion of case studies and recommendations. Participants stated that feedback should target front-line healthcare professionals, be straightforward and focused, and be delivered through an encouraging and honest discussion. Interviewees highlighted the value of using other relevant data sources alongside NAIF feedback and the importance of continuous data monitoring. Participants reported that engagement of front-line staff in the NAIF and following improvement activities was critical. Leadership, ownership, management support and communication at different organisational levels were perceived as enablers, while staffing level and turnover, and poor quality improvement (QI) skills, were perceived as barriers to improvement. Reported changes in practice included increased awareness and attention to patient safety issues and greater involvement of patients and staff in falls prevention activities. 

Conclusions: There is scope to improve the use of NCAs by front-line staff. NCAs should not be seen as isolated interventions but should be fully embedded and integrated into the QI strategic and operational plans of NHS trusts. The use of NCAs could be optimised, but knowledge of them is poor and distributed unevenly across different disciplines. More research is needed to provide guidance on key elements to consider throughout the whole improvement process at different organisational levels.

Original languageEnglish
Article number393
JournalBMC Health Services Research
Issue number1
Early online date24 Apr 2023
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2023


  • Audit
  • Feedback
  • Health care improvement
  • Inpatient falls
  • National clinical audit
  • Quality improvement

Cite this