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Patient safety; our priority every day of the year

Dr Amy Proffitt, RCP patient involvement officer, explores how the patient voice is represented in patient safety.

The public have a right to expect safety in all healthcare systems. Rates of adverse events in hospital have been estimated at between 3% and 16% globally and, despite increasing attention, have improved very little over the past 10 years. Patients should play a vital role in promoting safety and reducing adverse events – this is now not only an international policy priority but, more importantly, a moral imperative.

Patient involvement comes in a variety of forms, from educating patients about risk through to involving them in monitoring the safety practices of healthcare professionals. There is great potential for such schemes to improve communication and patient experience, as well as save money and improve outcomes. We also need to be mindful of the risk of patients feeling that healthcare professionals are shifting the weight of responsibility onto them, with the commensurate concern of receiving substandard or reduced care if they do not get involved.

It is also vital to recruit and engage patients from all ethnicities and cultures, given the emerging evidence suggesting that non-native-speaking patients may experience a higher risk of adverse events but be less likely to report problems with their care.

With the challenges of modern healthcare, it is ever more important to hear that loud voice of patients and carers, to work in partnership together and to make safety an everyday duty of care.

Eddie Kinsella, chair of the RCP’s Patient and Carer Network, shares his thoughts on patient safety.

Do no harm should be the ‘golden thread’ that is woven throughout all healthcare systems – a fundamental principle intended to ensure that each individual patient receives the highest quality of care possible. Sadly, the reality is that, despite the implementation of significant initiatives designed to improve systems and processes, many instances of avoidable harm still occur on a regular basis throughout the NHS.

Navigating the patient’s journey is becoming increasingly complex, particularly for frail older people and those with multiple health conditions. Unrelenting pressures upon the NHS, insufficient capacity and major workforce shortages all increase the potential for mistakes to occur. These challenges underline the importance of the role of patient partnerships, both in terms of self-care but also as advocates for the wider community, especially those most disadvantaged.

Patient safety is as much to do with mindset as it is with systems and processes. Culture change is a huge challenge in the current circumstances, but it is more likely to be achieved if those who offer the greatest insight into the day-to-day realities of the healthcare system are regarded as a precious resource. Patients and their families can bring valuable expertise to the patient safety agenda, acting as ‘knowledge brokers’ and providing helpful reality checks.

World Patient Safety Day is an important event that deserves our support, but patient safety should be our priority every day of the year.