A realistic evaluation of Early Warning Systems and acute care training in Northern Ireland: findings and recommendations

Jennifer McGaughey, Peter O'Halloran, Samuel Porter, Bronagh Blackwood

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperpeer-review


Statement of purpose The purpose of this concurrent session is to present the main findings and recommendations from a five year study evaluating the implementation of Early Warning Systems (EWS) and the Acute Life-threatening Events: Recognition and Treatment (ALERT) course in Northern Ireland. The presentation will provide delegates with an understanding of those factors that enable and constrain successful implementation of EWS and ALERT in practice in order to provide an impetus for change. Methods The research design was a multiple case study approach of four wards in two hospitals in Northern Ireland. It followed the principles of realist evaluation research which allowed empirical data to be gathered to test and refine RRS programme theory [1]. The stages included identifying the programme theories underpinning EWS and ALERT, generating hypotheses, gathering empirical evidence and refining the programme theories. This approach used a variety of mixed methods including individual and focus group interviews, observation and documentary analysis of EWS compliance data and ALERT training records. A within and across case comparison facilitated the development of mid-range theories from the research evidence. Results The official RRS theories developed from the realist synthesis were critically evaluated and compared with the study findings to develop a mid-range theory to explain what works, for whom in what circumstances. The findings of what works suggests that clinical experience, established working relationships, flexible implementation of protocols, ongoing experiential learning, empowerment and pre-emptive management are key to the success of EWS and ALERT implementation. Each concept is presented as ‘context, mechanism and outcome configurations’ to provide an understanding of how the context impacts on individual reasoning or behaviour to produce certain outcomes. ConclusionThese findings highlight the combination of factors that can improve the implementation and sustainability of EWS and ALERT and in light of this evidence several recommendations are made to provide policymakers with guidance and direction for future policy development. References: 1.Pawson R and Tilley N. (1997) Realistic Evaluation. Sage Publications; LondonType of submission: Concurrent session Source of funding: Sandra Ryan Fellowship funded by the School of Nursing & Midwifery, Queen’s University of Belfast
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 2013
EventBritish Association of Critical Care Nurses (BACCN) National Conference - Southport, United Kingdom
Duration: 16 Sep 201317 Sep 2013


ConferenceBritish Association of Critical Care Nurses (BACCN) National Conference
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom


  • realist evaluation
  • early warning systems


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