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Unsafe healthcare claims 3m lives a year: WHO launches Patient Safety Charter

WHO launches Patient Safety Charter

The agreement that outlines the core rights of all patients was signed at the conference held on September 12-13 at WHO headquarters in Geneva

The World Health Organization (WHO) has taken a major step to address patient safety concerns by signing the Patient Safety Rights Charter, the first of its kind, in light of the statistics showing one in 10 patients experiencing harm in healthcare settings and over three million annual deaths due to unsafe care. 

The agreement that outlines the core rights of all patients was signed at the conference held on September 12-13 at WHO headquarters in Geneva and online, with the participation of more than 2 300 people from all six WHO regions, including patient advocates and representatives of patients’ organizations. 

The participants took an active role in the development of the Patient safety rights charter, a significant step forward in the global commitment to safer health systems. 

The global conference was the key event to mark World Patient Safety Day (WPSD) which will be observed on September 17 under the theme “Engaging patients for patient safety”.  

“Patient safety is a collective responsibility.  Health systems must work hand-in-hand with patients, families, and communities, so that patients can be informed advocates in their own care, and every person can receive the safe, dignified, and compassionate care they deserve. Because if it’s not safe, it’s not care,” WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said. 

The WHO statement issued after the conference said: “Patient safety is an ethical and moral imperative grounded in the health care principle ‘First, do no harm!’, which lies at the heart of efforts to ensure high-quality health care systems and achieve universal health coverage. Yet, an estimated one in every 10 patients experience harm in healthcare facilities and each year there are more than three million deaths globally due to unsafe health care,” 

WHO Patient Safety Envoy, Sir Liam Donaldson said: “Our health systems are stronger, our work is empowered, and our care is safer when patients and families are alongside us. The journey to eliminate avoidable harm in healthcare has been a long one, and the stories of courage and compassion from patients and families who have suffered harm are pivotal to driving change and learning to be even safer.” 

A storytelling toolkit

WHO unveiled two new resources to support key stakeholders in implementing involvement of patients, families and caregivers in the provision of healthcare.  

Drawing on the power of patient stories, which is one of the most effective mechanisms for driving improvements in patient safety, a storytelling toolkit will guide patients and families through the process of sharing their experiences, especially those related to harmful events within healthcare.

The Global Knowledge Sharing Platform, created as part of a strategic partnership with SingHealth Institute for Patient Safety and Quality Singapore, supports the exchange of global resources, best practices, tools and resources related to patient safety, acknowledging the critical role of knowledge sharing in advancing safety.

“Patient engagement and empowerment is at the core of the Global Patient Safety Action Plan 2021–2030,” head of the WHO Patient Safety Flagship, Dr Neelam Dhingra, said. “With this World Patient Safety Day and the focus on patient engagement, we want to change that.”

According to the interim results of the 2023 survey of WHO Member States on the implementation of the global patient safety action plan, only 13% of responding countries have a patient representative on the governing board (or an equivalent mechanism) in the majority of their hospitals.  The survey also highlighted the income-based implementation gap, with good practices largely concentrated in higher-income countries.

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