World Patient Safety Day 2020 – John Boulton, Director, Improvement Cymru

John Boulton

Today is WHO World Patient Safety Day. At the present time patient safety is gaining perhaps more attention than ever given the need for us to protect patients from the harms of COVID-19. Highlighting World Patient Safety, therefore, seems timely.

The theme of this year’s WHO World Patient Safety Day is staff safety for patient safety. Increasingly it is recognised that there is a deep connection between the safety of both patient and staff safety. And it is the reason why the best and safest health systems in the world frequently give equal importance to both patient and staff.

Even without the presence of a pandemic, healthcare is high-risk, high-demand and high-stress with staff often working in fast-paced environments that are physically demanding and requiring constant mental astuteness. Furthermore, healthcare professionals often display the unique characteristic of self-sacrifice, putting the safety and well-being of the patient above that of themselves. Whilst this is admirable it exposes us to risk of infection, physical injury, fatigue, burnout and psychological issues. These manifest in many ways, and often over time. But as is being described increasingly, these harms within staff groups are associated with increased levels of harms within patients. Therefore, ensuring the safety and resiliency of an organization and the workforce is a necessary precondition to advancing patient safety.

The last six months has been a truly monumental effort by health and care staff to try and achieve that. And going into the winter period it is going to require the same, if not more effort. Our efforts to create COVID free zones, however, are in addition to all the safety work that continues to be essential. Healthcare acquired infections, pressure ulcers, medicines safety, acute deterioration, falls, etc, continue to be important issues that still need addressing by health care systems.

Going into the winter period we need to ensure that as we continue to focus on patient safety, we increasingly focus on staff safety and well-being. The additional workload and burden could be significant and we are all working to ensure that the support mechanisms and infrastructure is in place to ensure that staff are kept safe. This includes examples such as:

  • resilient supplies of personal protective equipment.
  • Adequate hand washing facilities
  • Effective workforce arrangements
  • Flu vaccination programmes

I hope that we all stay safe in the coming months, helping our colleagues and our patients achieve the best outcomes that we can.