Event summary, /

Health First Europe held an invitation-only roundtable event on 24 April in the European Parliament from 10.00-12.30 to debate the Future of Patient Safety in Europe. Under the Sponsorship of MEP Christofer Fjellner, (EPP, Sweden), the event was chaired by HFE Honorary President John Bowis with the participation of HFE Patron and Former EU Health Commissioner David Byrne, the Health Systems and Health Threats Units of the European Commission (DG SANCO), representatives of the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) and HFE MEP Supporter and Member of the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety Committee, MEP Karin Kadenbach (S&D, Austria).

Opening Health First Europe’s Open Forum Debate on Patient Safety, Patron of the Health First Europe Task Force on Patient Safety and HFE MEP Supporter Christofer Fjellner (EPP, Sweden) began by stating, We can do more to protect patients.”

What we can do to better protect patients was at the heart of the Health First Europe high-level roundtable which brought together representatives from the European Commission, European Centre for Disease and Prevention Control, European Parliament, German Coalition for Patient Safety, World Health Organisation, European Patients’ Forum and various other important health stakeholders to discuss and debate HFE’s recommendations for patient safety.  Ensuring the highest quality of care for patients throughout the EU was at the forefront of the discussions moderated by Honorary President John Bowis.  MEP Fjellner and President Bowis together highlighted the urgent need for decision-makers to focus on the establishment of minimum standards, measurable improvement targets and a European strategy to prevent healthcare associated-infections.

The establishment of minimum patient safety standards was a key recommendation highlighted by Katja Neubauer, Deputy Head of Unit, Health Systems, DG SANCO.  She discussed that the review of the Council Recommendations on patient safety including the prevention and control of healthcare associated infections (2009), is showing that nearly all Member States have implemented at least some the recommendations adopted by the Council in 2009. However, due to the economic downturn, progress has been hampered. The European Commission is also working with Member States on provisions of the Cross-border Healthcare Directive to link them to the Council Recommendations and other dossiers of importance to patient safety (such as the Professional Qualifications Directive).

Another HFE recommendation of particular importance was that for harmonised reporting systems in order to collect comparable data across Member States on patient safety.  MEP Karin Kadenbach (S&D, Austria) was very supportive of this recommendation, but also cited the importance of “having ideas to convince Member States that standardised systems are in their interest.”  MEP Kadenbach also brought up the topic of health literacy – which remains a significant factor in the patient safety debate.  She also stated that “safety will always be a concern as long as people do not know how to live in our health systems.”

From the healthcare professional’s point of view, Dr. Günther Jonitz discussed the importance of the patient safety culture on the implementation of HFE’s recommendations. He cited the German case where the culture has changed over time and now when an accident happens, the question is no longer who to blame, but why the accident occurred. According to Professor Jonitz, “value-based systems that focus on outcomes, not inputs, needs to be established“. This strategy should include all health workers including doctors, nurses, ancillary workers and education and control to decrease post-surgical infections.

Chief Scientist from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), Dr. Johan Giesecke, presented some of the current surveillance and data collection activities of the ECDC.  Dr. Giesecke described the ECDC’s role in patient safety, which is to support policy, not develop it.  He showed participants some of the projects undertaken by the ECDC, which include the monitoring of surgical site infections and infections in intensive care units.  However, Member State involvement is voluntary, and less than half of Member States currently participate.

Dr. Antoon Gijsens, Policy Officer, Health Threats Unit, DG SANCO, supported the idea that a European strategy for healthcare associated infections is important, but also described that many Member States are already considering such strategies at national level.  He suggested action plans are the key to implementation, because without timelines and targets “strategies become a document of good intentions.”  He also emphasised the need to tailor strategies for decreasing infections to each healthcare institutions for greater success.

Many of the participants further supported the recommendations of Health First Europe on patient safety and also underscored the necessity for health literacy and patient empowerment as areas that need to be further addressed and developed in terms of patient safety. Valentina Hafner, Programme Manager at the World Health Organizations European Office, shared that the WHO is currently working on four studies which look at how to involve patients more actively in the management of health. Patients are the strongest proponent of safety and “Informing the patient about patient safety is an incredibly powerful tool“, underlined Katja Neubauer.  Additionally, Dr. Achyut Guleri, Consultant Microbiologist and Head of Department Clinical Laboratory Medicine at the Blackpool Teaching Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, also shared various projects implemented by Blackpool Teaching Hospitals which have been able to reduce HCAIs and MRSA and cut costs. Dr. Guleri suggested that the sharing of best practices throughout the EU is extremely important to overall reduction of HCAIs.

David Byrne, Former EU Health Commissioner and HFE Patron, summed up the discussions for the day by emphasising the importance of harmonised data systems, reporting of data, and issues of surveillance and transparency for protecting patients.  In particular, Mr. Byrne discussed the need for an “open method of coordination” to enable harmonization of data so that we can better know where we are protecting patients and where we are not.  He suggested that “what gets measured, gets managed.  And we can do better managing the safety of patients.

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