An investigation of barriers to the use of the World Health Organization Surgical Safety Checklist in theatres

  • S Verwey
  • P.D. Gopalan


Background. The World Health Organization (WHO) has implemented the Surgical Safety Checklist (SSCL) as part of the Safe Surgery Saves Lives campaign. This is aimed at improving surgical safety worldwide. Despite many perceived benefits of the SSCL, compliance and acceptance in many areas remain poor.

Objectives. To investigate perceptions of theatre staff regarding the checklist and to identify reasons and barriers for poor compliance and implementation.

Methods. Questionnaires were handed out to theatre teams across all surgical disciplines at two large hospitals in Durban, South Africa, over a 2-week period. Data collected included role in theatre, intention of the SSCL, training received, as well as questions regarding previously identified barriers and staff perceptions.

Results. Questionnaires were distributed to 225 practitioners, with a response rate of 81.7% from 51 nurses, 54 anaesthetists and 79 surgeons. Rank of medical staff included 52 seniors (consultants) and 81 juniors (registrars and medical officers). The majority (95%) of respondents perceived the SSCL as intended to improve safety, prevent errors or reduce morbidity and mortality. A total of 146 respondents (79.3%) received no SSCL training. No new barriers were identified, but previously identified barriers were confirmed. Our key factors were time-related issues and lack of buy-in from team members. Surgeons were perceived as being supportive by 45.1% of respondents, in contrast to nurses (62.5%), anaesthetists (70.1%) and management (68.5%). When compared with junior staff, senior staff were 5-fold more likely to feel that staff did not need to be trained and 8-fold more likely to indicate that the checklist did not improve patient safety.

Conclusions. The WHO SSCL is an important tool in the operating room environment. The barriers in our setting are similar to those identified in other settings. There needs to be widespread training in the use of the SSCL, including adaptation of the checklist to make it fit for purpose in our setting. Improving use of the checklist will allow theatre staff to work together towards ensuring a safer theatre environment for both patients and staff.


Journal Identifiers

eISSN: 0256-95749
print ISSN: 2078-5135