On the occasion of the International Patient Safety Day (17th September 2018), Health First Europe, ESNO – European Specialist Nurses Organisations, COTEC – Council of Occupational Therapists for European Countries and EUROFEDOP – European Federation of Public Service Employees, jointly call Ministers of Health to step up and agree on a high level of understanding on patient safety standards to drive their national policies into a common path.
Healthcare professionals stand together to foster patient safety
The burden of illness and health cost is increasing across the globe, and Europe is not immune from this trend. Today, medication errors, unsafe clinical facilities, or practices, a lack in adequate training and workforce resources, huge mobility and uncertainty of staff at local level, as well as low cooperation in and coordination in care, are threatening the wellbeing of EU citizens and the health systems’ capacities to cope with the changing demand of care.
According to the latest data released by OECD, around 15 percent of hospital expenditure in European countries is due to preventable harms e.g. patients being infected while in hospitals. OECD reports that a considerable proportion of patients do not receive appropriate and evidence-based care and, globally, the cost associated with adverse events reaches US$ 42 billion per year (without counting productivity loss). Those costs are likely to increase given the ongoing demographic changes, the follow-on growing healthcare demand, infrastructure upgrades as well as therapeutic and technology advancements.
In this light, it is highly important to make the best out of the resources we have, starting from healthcare staffing. Health workforce is the cornerstone of any strategy aiming at improving quality of care and reducing risks to patients. The capacity of health systems to deliver health services effectively and meet the changing demand of care strongly depends on the availability of a workforce with the right skill set.
It is not only a matter of efficiency, but also of social rights and quality of life. Across the EU, everyone has the right to be treated by well-trained healthcare professionals, be they doctors, nurses, dentists, occupational therapists or pharmacists. The Council of the EU has already called Member States to enhance multidisciplinary patient safety education and training of all health workforce and relevant management staff. EU citizens are well aware of the effect of staffing issues on patient safety and greatly value education and expertise. According to the latest Eurobarometer survey on patient safety, Europeans identify well-trained staff as the essential criterion (53%) for high quality healthcare. Despite the Council Recommendation and the EU citizens’ emphasis on education, of health professionals, this still remains an area under-implemented that urges further efforts. It is extremely worrying that, not all EU countries have a nationally agreed common core of competencies for healthcare professionals dedicated to patient safety, reporting and management of adverse events. Patient safety education should be embedded and compulsory in healthcare professionals’ curricula from university to clinical practice.
In addition, the current lack of human resources in European hospitals does not make things easier. Staff shortage makes difficult the allocation of time for the implementation of process optimisation and continuous training on how to prevent or manage adverse events. This is a problem that policymakers need to address to make health settings more effective and innovative. Health systems that support and invest in staffing, in their education and professional growth, are better equipped to develop innovative and integrated solutions to respond to the increasing demand of health and the burden of patient safety.
Supporting and investing in healthcare staffing mean:
- Relevant working conditions for all healthcare professionals, who are essential for reducing risks for patients and promoting a culture of continuous learning on patient safety;
- Patient safety fully included in the standard training of health professionals;
- Effective support and training to ensure the safest use of new medical technologies.
Preventing adverse events and unnecessary expenses is crucial to ensure sustainability, which is dramatically threatened by the demographic change. As the worldwide population ages, the healthcare systems of every country worldwide will face significant challenges to meet the needs of an aging population. We must prepare healthcare workforce for the future, anticipating skill needs and improving Continuous Professional Development (CPD) and Life Long Learning throughout professional career pathways.
This week we celebrate the International Patient Safety Day, let’s make it count! We jointly call Ministers of Health to step up and agree on a high level of understanding on patient safety practices and standards to drive their national policies into a common path. No country can afford unsafe healthcare and quality of care will always rely on the critical role of health workforce. Increased supply, better resources distribution and a skill mix can only strengthen prevention, integrated service delivery and, ultimately, safety. The last European Commission’s action plan on healthcare workforce was issued in 2012. Much has changed since then, it is now time to update it. The European Health Forum in Gastein is quickly approaching: European policymakers should make the best use of this arena to discuss the common health challenges and how jointly advance health workforce planning and education.
 European Commission, Report on the implementation of the Council Recommendation on patient safety, including the prevention and control of healthcare associated infections, 2014