Objective: To independently evaluate the impact of the second phase of the Health Foundation's Safer Patients Initiative (SPI2) on a range of patient safety measures. Design: A controlled before and after design. Five substudies: survey of staff attitudes; review of case notes from high risk (respiratory) patients in medical wards; review of case notes from surgical patients; indirect evaluation of hand hygiene by measuring hospital use of handwashing materials; measurement of outcomes (adverse events, mortality among high risk patients admitted to medical wards, patients' satisfaction, mortality in intensive care, rates of hospital acquired infection). Setting: NHS hospitals in England. Participants: Nine hospitals participating in SPI2 and nine matched control hospitals. Intervention The SPI2 intervention was similar to the SPI1, with somewhat modified goals, a slightly longer intervention period, and a smaller budget per hospital. Results: One of the scores (organisational climate) showed a significant (P=0.009) difference in rate of change over time, which favoured the control hospitals, though the difference was only 0.07 points on a five point scale. Results of the explicit case note reviews of high risk medical patients showed that certain practices improved over time in both control and SPI2 hospitals (and none deteriorated), but there were no significant differences between control and SPI2 hospitals. Monitoring of vital signs improved across control and SPI2 sites. This temporal effect was significant for monitoring the respiratory rate at both the six hour (adjusted odds ratio 2.1, 99% confidence interval 1.0 to 4.3; P=0.010) and 12 hour (2.4, 1.1 to 5.0; P=0.002) periods after admission. There was no significant effect of SPI for any of the measures of vital signs. Use of a recommended system for scoring the severity of pneumonia improved from 1.9% (1/52) to 21.4% (12/56) of control and from 2.0% (1/50) to 41.7% (25/60) of SPI2 patients. This temporal change was significant (7.3, 1.4 to 37.7; P=0.002), but the difference in difference was not significant (2.1, 0.4 to 11.1; P=0.236). There were no notable or significant changes in the pattern of prescribing errors, either over time or between control and SPI2 hospitals. Two items of medical history taking (exercise tolerance and occupation) showed significant improvement over time, across both control and SPI2 hospitals, but no additional SPI2 effect. The holistic review showed no significant changes in error rates either over time or between control and SPI2 hospitals. The explicit case note review of perioperative care showed that adherence rates for two of the four perioperative standards targeted by SPI2 were already good at baseline, exceeding 94% for antibiotic prophylaxis and 98% for deep vein thrombosis prophylaxis. Intraoperative monitoring of temperature improved over time in both groups, but this was not significant (1.8, 0.4 to 7.6; P=0.279), and there were no additional effects of SPI2. A dramatic rise in consumption of soap and alcohol hand rub was similar in control and SPI2 hospitals (P=0.760 and P=0.889, respectively), as was the corresponding decrease in rates of Clostridium difficile and meticillin resistant Staphylococcus aureus infection (P=0.652 and P=0.693, respectively). Mortality rates of medical patients included in the case note reviews in control hospitals increased from 17.3% (42/243) to 21.4% (24/112), while in SPI2 hospitals they fell from 10.3% (24/233) to 6.1% (7/114) (P=0.043). Fewer than 8% of deaths were classed as avoidable; changes in proportions could not explain the divergence of overall death rates between control and SPI2 hospitals. There was no significant difference in the rate of change in mortality in intensive care. Patients' satisfaction improved in both control and SPI2 hospitals on all dimensions, but again there were no significant changes between the two groups of hospitals. Conclusions: Many aspects of care are already good or improving across the NHS in England, suggesting considerable improvements in quality across the board. These improvements are probably due to contemporaneous policy activities relating to patient safety, including those with features similar to the SPI, and the emergence of professional consensus on some clinical processes. This phenomenon might have attenuated the incremental effect of the SPI, making it difficult to detect. Alternatively, the full impact of the SPI might be observable only in the longer term. The conclusion of this study could have been different if concurrent controls had not been used.