Keeping ALL patients safe in the midst of COVID-19

A blog by Helen Hughes, Chief Executive

  • 17th March 2020

Image: CDC/Alissa Eckert, MS; Dan Higgins, MAMS

The World Health Organization (WHO) has determined that the COVID-19 viral disease is a pandemic. Health systems are responding by detecting, testing, treating, isolating, tracing and mobilising people.

Concentrating on this pandemic is essential. However, if we do this to the neglect of other patients who do not have the virus, they may die unnecessarily.

As shown in our report, A Blueprint for Action, thousands of avoidable deaths occur each year from unsafe patient care. While healthcare professionals focus on those affected by COVID-19, making huge efforts to limit the spread, protect patients and keep demand for health services down, we must not forget about those other patients who need our services. We need to keep all patients safe.

Distracting healthcare professionals away from ‘normal safe protocols and practices' could be lethal. People with long-term conditions may get forgotten, blood tests not performed in a timely manner, appointments missed etc.

What impact will COVID-19 have on patient safety?

  • Existing patient safety issues will be magnified and exacerbated with the rapid escalation of COVID-19.
  • Known causes of patient safety issues, such as scarcity of workforce, are likely to become even more significant, thus multiplying the quantity of patient safety incidents.
  • COVID-19 will become the main focus of a large number of health and care staff. Patient safety initiatives that have, to date, had traction and success may be abandoned for expediency.

Considering the patient and family perspective

Healthcare staff will be focused on treating the person in front of them and the associated risks of COVID-19 to that individual. Patients see their whole care journey. They are well placed to identify gaps quickly. The concerns and experiences shared by patients and their families will help us highlight bigger system issues that need addressing quickly to prevent avoidable harm during this pandemic.

We need to engage with all affected by COVID-19, including patients. Stated in A Blueprint for Action, “Robust evidence shows that communication between clinicians and patients has a positive impact on health outcomes…. Engaging patients in their care increases patient safety, reduces harm and potentially reduces costs.”

This is why we at Patient Safety Learning believe that it is critical that we hear everyone’s and anyone’s stories, and this is one of the reasons we developed the hub, a knowledge-sharing platform and community for patient safety. We want to enable everyone across the health and care system – from staff to patients – to provide advice and solutions that empower patients to take some control to ensure the safety of their care.

Now more than ever, it is important that patients and their families can protect themselves to the best of their abilities while using the healthcare system.

Collaborating with others on the impact on non COVID-19 patients and patient safety

Patient Safety Learning has joined efforts with patient safety leaders, agencies and NGOs from across the world to collate insights into the impacts on non COVID-19 patients and patient safety.

Our aim is to gather timely and relevant information/data (qualitative and quantitative) that can be used to inform healthcare leaders now, as well as in the future for learning purposes.

We want to do this primarily on the hub. Launched in Autumn 2019, the hub provides users with a knowledge repository, communities of practice and news. the hub is free to use and we encourage all members to share their resources and insights to help improve patient safety.

Content on the hub is currently UK-focused, though we hope that as people hear of us and the value that the hub can bring, it will become a global resource for all – healthcare workers, system and organisational leaders, patients and families, policy makers, Ministries of Health etc.

There is already a dedicated section on the hub that contains resources on COVID-19, including guidance, advice, tips and personal blogs.

We have also set up a separate section in the hub’s community section, and invite patients, family members and staff to share their stories, highlight safety issues that need to be addressed and share solutions that are working.

You can help by sharing your information and insight

Wherever you live and whatever role you play in the healthcare system, we invite you to share the following on the hub:

  • Your personal stories of the impact of COVID-19 on you, your patients or your family. We want to hear everyone’s stories – both the positive and the negative.
  • New areas of weakness you’ve observed in the healthcare system.
  • Aspects of healthcare that you previously considered safe but may no longer be so as a consequence of fewer staff, changes in ways of working, unclear new arrangements, etc.
  • Data and analytics you’ve discovered or seen, showing current trends in safety and adherence.

How your input will help us and patient safety

Along with gathering your insights via the hub, we are also sourcing information from patients, families and staff from across the world through patient safety agencies, patient and family organisations, healthcare systems and social and mainstream media.

We will promote this work as part of a global campaign, using the hashtag on social media: #safetystories

Collaborating with others, we will bring these valuable insights together, review content and identify themes of concern, and highlight our findings through regular updates and reports.


A platform for anyone with an interest in patient safety to share and learn from one another. Learn more.

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