Speaking up for patient safety on World Patient Safety Day

  • 17th September 2019
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By Helen Hughes, Patient Safety Learning Chief Executive

Monuments and fountains will be lit up across the globe today to herald the first ever World Patient Safety Day, organised by the World Health Organisation (WHO). "Speak up for patient safety" is the universal call as the spotlight is put on this global health priority.

With the supporting strapline that “No one should be harmed in health care” the day brings together patients, families, carers, communities, health workers, health care leaders and policy makers to show commitment to patient safety.

The scale of avoidable deaths due to unsafe care globally is horrifying.

According to the WHO, 2.6 million patients die a year following 134 million adverse events from unsafe care in hospitals in low and middle income countries. Its stand in highlighting this shocking global picture is to be embraced.

The annual patient toll from avoidable harm in England

But while in our developed economy, health trusts and bodies mark the day showcasing some of the positive steps they have been taking to improve patient safety, the reality is that this is an issue that we have been discussing domestically for more than 15 years. And we still have a significant amount to do if we are to see genuine progress across health and social care.

Each year in England, thousands of patients lose their lives unnecessarily from avoidable harm, and analysis published this year by NHS Improvement suggests that we may fail to save around 11,000 lives a year due to safety concerns [Hogan et al, in NHS Improvement (July 2019) The NHS Patient Safety Strategy: Safer culture, safer systems, safer patients (p. 3)].

Our charity, Patient Safety Learning, came into existence because a group of passionate professionals and patients with wide experience of the health system and a deep concern for patient safety felt that a different approach was still needed to make progress.

Patient Safety Learning’s A Blueprint for Action and the hub

So was born our report, A Blueprint for Action, which we launched earlier this summer, advocating six evidence-based foundations for action to address the causes of unsafe care. At the heart of our commitment to shared learning is the creation of the hub, an online platform and community for people to share learning about patient safety problems, experiences and solutions.

Currently in beta, the hub is designed as an open repository for anyone to access, contribute to and learn from. At Patient Safety Learning, we believe this is a crucial missing piece to developing a system-wide approach with common standards, shared learning and with much greater transparency.

On 2 October this year, we will be hosting in London our second annual conference attended by senior health and social care leaders, clinicians, patient safety experts, patients’ groups and individuals who have experienced at first hand the traumas of losing a loved one where the quality of care has fallen down. We will also be officially launching the hub.

If you care passionately about patient safety and want to help drive the transformation of how we improve our health system, I do urge you to join us. You can book your ticket by clicking here.

With scant reference in the NHS Long Term Plan to patient safety, although its programmes are planned to significantly improve services, there is a real opportunity to design patient safety into transforming care as well as reducing the risk of avoidable harm.

In addition, NHS Improvement’s recent patient safety strategy, although to be very much welcomed, glaringly does not offer the specific approach to the sharing of learning that we have developed.

The need for a new commitment to patient safety

Patient Safety Learning is driving a complementary approach. We want to see a resurgent commitment to patient safety and for health and social care leaders, politicians and other influencers to come together, supporting an approach where patient safety is embedded as a core purpose, not just responding when things go wrong and patients are harmed. We want sharing, learning and action for improvement to come from very positive experiences and good practice as well as the negative.


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

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