Advancing the Global Patient Safety Agenda

By John Tingle and Jen Minford

All too often it seems that patient safety and health quality policy makers work in their own silos unaware of what is taking place in other countries, wasting valuable resources by trying to re-invent the wheel. There is a clear need to have a way of cascading the news down on what is happening in patient safety globally. Developing and transitioning countries do not always have the resources to build up patient safety infrastructures, tools and policies and letting them know about initiatives going on in other countries fulfils a very important global public health need.

There is also the concept of ‘reverse innovation’.  Developed countries’ patient safety practices and policies can be informed by the experiences of developing and transitioning countries who may be using them in a different and novel way. Patient safety learning can be a two-way street.

To address this need, WHO and world health ministers now join together annually for a Summit to advance the world patient safety agenda. The Second Global Ministerial Summit on Patient Safety was held in Bonn, Germany on 29th/30th March 2017.The Summit is designed for countries to share learning and tools to help tackle common challenges. The UK’s Secretary of State for Health, Jeremy Hunt stated the extent of the global patient safety problem:

“Every year an estimated 1 million patients die in hospitals across the world because of avoidable clinical mistakes. It is difficult to confirm the exact number because of variability in reporting standards, but if it is of this scale it sits along hypertensive heart disease and road deaths as one of the top causes of death in the world today.”

Ministers of Health and high level delegates from 45 countries across different geographical regions and levels of economic development were present. Also in attendance were representatives from global organisations such as WHO and international and national patient safety experts.

Out of this global Summit came several important global patient safety policies and publications. In addition, WHO launched a global effort to halve medication-related errors in 5 years. Medication errors cause at least one death every day and injure approximately 1.3 million people annually in the United States of America alone.

A particularly valuable report published at the Summit was a compendium of Global Best Practices in patient safety.The report is divided into three sections; Economy and Efficiency-Patient Safety Measures, Medication Safety, Checklists, and Other Tools, Prevention and Control of Infectious Diseases. A number of patient safety projects and initiatives appear under each heading and span a variety of countries with most having web links to further information sources.

The Summit and the resulting initiatives and publications provide an excellent world overview of patient safety. Patient safety is a problem of global proportion. Many countries have risen to the patient safety challenge and have produced some very novel and informative patient safety policies, tools and practices which we all can learn from. Others in developing and transitioning countries are taking first steps.

John Tingle

John Tingle is a regular contributor to the Bill of Health blog. I am a Lecturer in Law, Birmingham Law School, University of Birmingham, UK; and a Visiting Professor of Law, Loyola University Chicago, School of Law. I was a Visiting Scholar at Harvard Law School in November 2018 and formerly Associate Professor at Nottingham Law School, Nottingham Trent University in the UK. I have a fortnightly magazine column in the British Journal of Nursing where I focus on patient safety and the legal aspects of nursing and medicine. I have published over 500 articles and a number of leading texts in patient safety and nursing law. My current research interests are in global patient safety, policy and practice, particularly in African health care systems. My most recent publication is: "Global Patient-Safety Law Policy and Practice," edited by John Tingle, Clayton O'Neill, and Morgan Shimwell, Routledge 2018.

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