Sir Robert Francis has this month published the independent report he was asked to make by the Government, into creating an open and honest reporting culture in the NHS.

Sir Robert asked me to share my expertise on the “just culture” we have within NATS and has included in his report a Case Study of NATS as an example organisation that has seen the benefits of Just Culture. We are pleased and indeed proud, that NATS was able to provide Sir Robert with an insight into the open culture we encourage and promote across our business, helping him to make his recommendations to foster an open culture across the health service.

NATS is responsible for handling over two million flights and 220 million passengers every year, and safety is at the core of everything we do.  A Just Culture is key to a strong Safety Culture and entails so much more than the safety management systems, manual, procedures, standards and targets. A strong Safety Culture is built on the application of a Just Culture where open and honest reporting is fully supported and acknowledged, allowing individuals to bring forward safety issues and risks without fear of retribution.  Only in this manner are we likely to learn from our mistakes.  It is this that Sir Robert has recognised in his report as key and a strategic priority.

Over recent years, both NATS management and the trade unions have worked with our employees to build and maintain a relationship of trust, but it can never be regarded as a finished product.  We seek to ensure that people are responsible for their own actions and that we learn from every incident, rather than seeking to apportion blame.

We encourage our employees to put up their hand when a mistake is made or to identify a risk that a colleague may experience. We place great value on open reporting and open discussion in order to embed the safeguards to remove the risk or prevent anyone else from making the same mistake. But equally, we do not tolerate negligence, wilful violation or destructive acts; it is a ‘Just Culture’ not a ‘no blame culture’.

Safety is our first priority and our commitment to a culture of safety has resulted in significant improvement in recent years to our safety record.  In the past ten years we have halved the number of reportable safety incidents and reduced the number of airprox by 75%.  It is a record of which we are justifiably proud but by no means complacent, and we continue to place our Just Culture at the heart of all we are doing to improve our record further.


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