The recent WHO-hosted global conference on patient safety and patient engagement has concluded with a groundbreaking achievement: the agreement on a Patient Safety Rights Charter. This charter defines the fundamental rights of patients in the context of healthcare safety and aims to ensure that patients’ voices are heard and their right to safe healthcare is upheld.
Collective Responsibility for Patient Safety
Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General, emphasized that patient safety is a collective responsibility. It requires collaboration between health systems, patients, families, and communities to empower patients to advocate for their own care. The goal is to provide every individual with safe, dignified, and compassionate healthcare.
A Persistent Problem
Patient safety is a moral and ethical imperative grounded in the principle of “First, do no harm!” Yet, an estimated one in ten patients experiences harm in healthcare facilities, resulting in over three million global deaths annually due to unsafe healthcare. Most of this harm is preventable, and involving patients, families, and caregivers is crucial in reducing it.
A Paradigm Shift
This year’s World Patient Safety Day emphasizes the vital importance of listening to patients, learning from their experiences, and involving them in all aspects of care. This shift from care designed for patients to care designed with patients, their families, and caregivers is a key strategy for reducing harm and improving healthcare safety.
Empowering Patients and Families
Sir Liam Donaldson, WHO Patient Safety Envoy, stressed that healthcare systems are stronger and safer when patients and families are active partners. Their stories of courage and compassion are instrumental in driving change and making healthcare safer.
The Global Conference and World Patient Safety Day
The global conference on patient engagement for patient safety marked World Patient Safety Day (WPSD), observed on September 17th under the theme “Engaging Patients for Patient Safety.” The conference gathered over 2,300 participants from all WHO regions, including patient advocates and representatives of patients’ organizations. The highlight was the development of the Patient Safety Rights Charter, a significant step toward safer health systems. The advanced version of the charter will be released for public consultation as part of the activities for World Patient Safety Day 2023.
Resources for Patient Engagement
During the conference, WHO introduced two resources to support stakeholders in involving patients, families, and caregivers in healthcare provision. A storytelling toolkit will guide patients and families in sharing their experiences, particularly related to harmful events in healthcare. The Global Knowledge Sharing Platform, developed in partnership with SingHealth Institute for Patient Safety and Quality Singapore, facilitates the exchange of global resources and best practices in patient safety.
Closing the Patient Safety Gap
Dr. Neelam Dhingra, head of the WHO Patient Safety Flagship, highlighted the importance of patient engagement and empowerment in the Global Patient Safety Action Plan 2021–2030. However, the interim results of a 2023 survey of WHO Member States revealed that only 13% of responding countries have patient representatives on hospital governing boards in most of their hospitals. The survey also pointed out an income-based implementation gap, with better practices primarily found in higher-income countries.