Objectives: Debriefing is a form of psychological “first aid” with origins in the military. It moved into the spotlight in 1983, when Mitchell described the technique of critical incident stress debriefing. To date little work has been carried out relating to the effectiveness of debriefing hospital staff after critical incidents. The aim of this study was to survey current UK practice in order to develop some “best practice” guidelines.
Methods: This study was a descriptive evaluation based on a structured questionnaire survey of 180 lead paediatric and emergency medicine consultants and nurses, selected from 50 UK trusts. Questions collected data about trust policy and events and also about individuals’ personal experience of debrief. Free text comments were analyzed using the framework method described for qualitative data.
Results: Overall, the response rate was 80%. 62% said a debrief would occur most of the time. 85% reported that the main aim was to resolve both medical and psychological and emotional issues. Nearly all involve both doctors and nurses (88%); in over half (62%) other healthcare workers would be invited, eg, paramedics, students. Sessions are usually led by someone who was involved in the resuscitation attempt (76%). This was a doctor in 80%, but only 18% of responders said that a specifically trained person had led the session. Individuals’ psychological issues would be discussed further on a one-to-one basis and the person directed to appropriate agencies. Any strategic working problems highlighted would be discussed with a senior member of staff and resolved via clinical governance pathways.
Conclusions: Little is currently known about the benefits of debriefing hospital staff after critical incidents such as failed resuscitation. Debriefing is, however, widely practised and the results of this study have been used to formulate some best practice guidelines while awaiting evidence from further studies.
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Funding: This study was funded by the Association of Paediatric Emergency Medicine.
Competing interests: None.
Ethics approval: As this was a survey not involving patients, consent from the participants was inferred by their responding to the questionnaire.