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Editorial, /

Editorial by David Byrne, HFE Patron

This past week, EU Health Ministers gathered for an informal meeting in Dublin to discuss a variety of health issues, one of which was patient safety. In the context of discussions on the impact of the economic crisis on health systems across Europe, I commend the Irish Presidency for bringing patient safety onto the agenda because economic pressure in EU health systems will certainly impact on the safety of patients. As Health and Consumer Policy Commissioner Tonio Borg stated after the meeting, “Healthcare associated infections are something that we can reverse. 70% of cases could have been prevented with the right measures and while there has been great progress in all Member States, there is still much to be done.”

Prevention of adverse events and healthcare associated infections not only returns patients back to productive living much more quickly, it reduces costs to health systems. The European Commission has estimated that 13-16% of total hospital costs (1€ for every €7 spent) are due to healthcare related injuries and ill health. This estimation does not include the costs for treating the adverse conditions. What is even more troubling is that many of the necessary measures for prevention are already known – such as hand hygiene, surgical check lists and the use of technologies for sterilising rooms and medical equipment. It is clear from the European Commission’s report on Member State implementation of the Council Recommendations in 2009, barriers to implementing patient safety prevention measures persist. Why? And how can the EU and health ministers solve the problem which could save countless patient lives and considerable health care costs?

As Patron of Health First Europe, I believe organisations like ours can help. I believe that by allowing patients, healthcare professionals, hospitals, academics and industry to provide expert knowledge to the European Commission about problems inherent in systems, as well as the known solutions, we can achieve greater safety for all individuals. It is why the European Commission should launch a public consultation on the most recent patient safety report to understand and build upon the knowledge of health stakeholders. In 2008, the public consultation on patient safety resulted in almost 200 responses, providing the foundation for the Council Recommendations in 2009. The EU should continue encouraging Member States to adopt additional practices for the prevention of adverse events and HCAIs and there is little doubt that stakeholders like HFE, can be relied on to contribute to the development of targeted next steps for patient protection.

Challenges for today’s health systems are great and determining how to reduce healthcare costs without reducing care will not be solved just by looking at patient safety measures alone. However, there is significant added value and available cost savings in focusing on protecting patients for the benefit of us all. HFE and our fellow stakeholders can certainly help in achieving that goal.