In the United Kingdom, 26% of child deaths have identifiable failures in care. Although children account for 40% of family physicians’ workload, little is known about the safety of care in the community setting. Using data from a national patient safety incident reporting system, this study aimed to characterize the pediatric safety incidents occurring in family practice.


We undertook a retrospective, cross-sectional, mixed methods study of pediatric reports submitted to the UK National Reporting and Learning System from family practice. Analysis involved detailed data coding using multiaxial frameworks, descriptive statistical analysis, and thematic analysis of a special-case sample of reports. Using frequency distributions and cross-tabulations, the relationships between incident types and contributory factors were explored.


Of 1788 reports identified, 763 (42.7%) described harm to children. Three crosscutting priority areas were identified: medication management, assessment and referral, and treatment. The 4 incident types associated with the most harmful outcomes are errors associated with diagnosis and assessment, delivery of treatment and procedures, referrals, and medication provision. Poor referral and treatment decisions in severely unwell or vulnerable children, along with delayed diagnosis and insufficient assessment of such children, featured prominently in incidents resulting in severe harm or death.


This is the first analysis of nationally collected, family practice–related pediatric safety incident reports. Recommendations to mitigate harm in these priority areas include mandatory pediatric training for all family physicians; use of electronic tools to support diagnosis, management, and referral decision-making; and use of technological adjuncts such as barcode scanning to reduce medication errors.

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