Patient Safety: A Commission Challenge

Patient safety is everyone’s business

Health equals wealth. Wealth in lives saved from premature and unnecessary deaths but also wealth in unnecessary expenses that EU states can ill afford.

From these words, it is worth reflecting on the relevance of patient safety across Europe.

According to the Council Recommendation on patient safety, including prevention and control of healthcare associated infections of 2009, Member States are at different levels in the development and implementation of efficient and coherent patient safety strategies. Europe is at a standstill when it comes to taking advanced measures and steps on this issue.

The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) has assessed that, on average, healthcare associated infections (HAIs) are widely spread in Europe. Every year, almost 37,000 deaths are caused as a result of such infections. Moreover, the anti-microbial resistance (AMR) represents another major public health concern.

Most EU countries have implemented several measures in accordance with the Council Recommendation of 15 November 2001 on the prudent use of antimicrobial agents in human medicine. Since then, improvements have been marked in various areas, including surveillance systems, the use of indicators and awareness campaigns.

However, there are still huge diversities between countries in the governance and the scope of national strategies and action plans, and in the way measures are implemented and assessed. New areas for further actions need to be addressed, i.e. the establishment of an understandable governance of national strategies and national action plans to contain AMR in all countries, a strengthening of surveillance and evaluation systems and a system of more appropriate indicators.

Patient safety is everyone’s business.

On the one hand, EU Member States should take a closer look into their national contexts ensuring a fully comprehensive approach by taking into consideration suitable elements that can impact the burden of adverse events, such as disability or permanent damage, hospitalisation or birth defect. On the other hand, patients have to be more involved as concerns patient safety standards, best practices and safety procedures, so that solutions for sustainable health systems can be easily achieved. National campaigns and educational programmes need to be increased for guaranteeing a deeper knowledge on patient safety and quality of care.

Ultimately, there comes the need for a safety culture, where health professionals are provided training courses focused on hygiene and infection controls that can be the basis for taking positive actions. Developing a patient safety culture would require modifying the attitudes of professionals, creating cooperation, converting research evidence into practice, considering patients as partners in the healthcare process and making certain that expectations for outcomes will be in their best interests.

All EU countries should move forward along this line, setting noticeable targets for improving patient safety and quality of care throughout Europe. By creating a new culture on patient safety and taking effective governmental measures, health care will be patient-centred, efficient, accessible and equitable.

As a follow-up of this theme, on 13th October 2016 there will be a breakfast debate entitled “Measuring patient safety progress in Europe”, organized by Health First Europe. The roundtable debate will be the frame for the launch of the 11 HFE Patient safety policy indicators which aim at measuring progress on patient safety including prevention and control of healthcare associated infections at EU level.

Ultimately patient safety is one of those issues acting as a litmus test for the ability of the Commission to act. Stuck between limited competence at the EU level and Member States jealous guarding of their own authority in health patient safety has been downgraded at the EU level with the exception of AMR. AMR contains risks to cross border flows of patients so it is more easily seen as an EU competence. Therefore, the Commission will need to think of the narrative to ‘’sell’’ EU originated patient safety initiatives to the Member States. Our view is that we are only one crisis away from patient safety moving back to the top of the agenda and the Commission needs to be ahead of the curve before it is too late.

From the IP Brussels Health Team:

Melina Raso

Laura Cigolot