Global stakeholders agree to a new charter on patient safety rights

Global stakeholders agree to a new charter on patient safety rights

By World Health Organization WHO

The WHO-hosted global conference on patient safety and patient engagement concluded last week with agreement across a broad range of stakeholders on a first-ever patient safety rights charter. It outlines the core rights of all patients in the context of safety of health care and seeks to assist governments and other stakeholders to ensure that the voices of patients are heard and their right to safe health care is protected.

“Patient safety is a collective responsibility. Health systems must work hand-in-hand with patients, families and communities, so that patients can be informed advocates in their own care, and every person can receive the safe, dignified and compassionate care they deserve,” said Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General – “because if it’s not safe, it’s not care.”

Patient safety is an ethical and moral imperative grounded in the health care principle – “First, do no harm!” – which lies at the heart of efforts to ensure high-quality health care systems and achieve universal health coverage. Yet, an estimated one in every 10 patients experience harm in health care facilities and each year, there are more than three million deaths globally due to unsafe health care.

Most of the patient harm is preventable, and the engagement of patients, families and caregivers is one of the most important strategies for reducing harm. This year’s World Patient Safety Day seeks to highlight the critical importance of listening to patients, families and caregivers, learning from their experiences, and involving them in every aspect of care, to avoid harm, lower the risk of errors and reduce the impact of harm when it does occur. This requires a shift in paradigm, from care designed for patients to care designed with patients, their families and caregivers.

"Our health systems are stronger, our work is empowered, and our care is safer when patients and families are alongside us,” said Sir Liam Donaldson, WHO Patient Safety Envoy. “The journey to eliminate avoidable harm in health care has been a long one, and the stories of courage and compassion from patients and families who have suffered harm are pivotal to driving change and learning to be even safer."

The global conference on patient engagement for patient safety was the key event to mark World Patient Safety Day (WPSD), which was observed on September 17 under the theme “Engaging patients for patient safety”. Meaningful involvement of patients, families and caregivers in the provision of health care, and their experiences and perspectives can contribute to enhancing health care safety and quality, saving lives and reducing costs, and the WPSD aims to promote and accelerate better patient and family engagement in the design and delivery of safe health services.

The conference was held on September 12 and 13 at WHO headquarters in Geneva and online, with the participation of more than 2 300 people from all six WHO regions, including patient advocates and representatives of patients’ organizations, who took an active role in the development of the Patient safety rights charter, a significant step forward in the global commitment to safer health systems. Its advanced version was released and open for public consultation as part of the activities to commemorate World Patient Safety Day 2023.

At the conference, WHO unveiled two new resources to support key stakeholders in implementing involvement of patients, families and caregivers in the provision of health care. Drawing on the power of patient stories, which is one of the most effective mechanisms for driving improvements in patient safety, a storytelling toolkit will guide patients and families through the process of sharing their experiences, especially those related to harmful events within health care. The Global Knowledge Sharing Platform, created as part of a strategic partnership with SingHealth Institute for Patient Safety and Quality Singapore, supports the exchange of global resources, best practices, tools and resources related to patient safety, acknowledging the pivotal role of knowledge sharing in advancing safety.

“Patient engagement and empowerment is at the core of the Global Patient Safety Action Plan 2021-2030. It is one of the most powerful tools to improve patient safety and the quality of care, but it remains an untapped resource in many countries, and the weakest link in the implementation of patient safety measures and strategies. With this World Patient Safety Day and the focus on patient engagement, we want to change that,” said Dr. Neelam Dhingra, head of the WHO Patient Safety Flagship.

According to the interim results of the 2023 survey of WHO Member States on the implementation of the global patient safety action plan, only 13% of responding countries have a patient representative on the governing board (or an equivalent mechanism) in the majority of their hospitals. The survey also highlighted the income-based implementation gap, with good practices largely concentrated in higher-income countries.

About World Patient Safety Day

Patient and family engagement is a pivotal strategy to advance safety in healthcare. As users of the healthcare system with first-hand experience of the entire patient journey, the perspectives of patients, families and caregivers are invaluable in improving patient safety. The impact of meaningful patient engagement is remarkable, with studies showing a potential reduction in the burden of harm by up to 15%, saving countless lives and billions of dollars each year. Therefore, patient and family engagement has been embedded as a fundamental principle in the World Health Assembly resolution (WHA72.6) on Global action on patient safety and in the Global Patient Safety Action Plan 2021-2030.

Dedicated to the theme “Engaging patients for patient safety” and the slogan “Elevate the voice of patients”, World Patient Safety Day 2023 focused on influencing stakeholders including patients, families, policy makers, health care leaders, health workers and patient organizations to work collaboratively towards co-designing health care policies and safety interventions that truly reflect the needs and preferences of patients, ultimately enhancing healthcare safety globally.

Key messages

  • Safe health care is a fundamental right of all patients, everywhere, every time. And yet, patient harm due to unsafe care is one of the leading causes of death and disability worldwide, with millions of patients harmed every year.
  • Patient and family engagement is a key strategy to developing safer health systems. Safe health care depends on the full involvement of patients and families as the users of the health care system, and it requires a shift from care designed for patients to care designed with patients.
  • Patients and families should be involved at every level of health care, from fully informed consent and shared decision-making at the point of care, to policy-making and planning.
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