My abiding memory from the WHO Global Conference ‘Engaging Patients for Patient Safety’ was the shocking experiences outlined by patients and families from across the world who had been bereaved or suffered appalling and life-changing harm. We were there to listen with our hearts and I was deeply moved hearing descriptions of suffering and how lives had been devastated following errors made by their respective health systems. And this harm was compounded by the way in which their concerns were ignored or dismissed by healthcare professionals and organisations who didn’t listen. I will not forget them.
As well as providing a platform for these patients and families, the conference was a call to action, hearing about the advances and challenges facing our global colleagues in a joint endeavour to implement the strategies set out by the WHO in its10-year action plan. This year’s theme ‘Engaging patients for patient safety’ resonated with me as we seek to work in partnership with patients to improve safety and see patients as part of the clinical team, experts in their own conditions and of their families. Many of the themes emerging from the conference had striking similarities of the findings from the Cumberlege Review, First Do No Harm which described the health system in England as dismissive, disjointed, slow, siloed and lacking in compassion.
As part of the conference, delegates gathered to analyse the draft Patient Safety Rights Charter from the WHO. This works towards the goal of providing safe and high-quality healthcare for all and to empower patients to actively participate in their own care as partners and to assert their right to safe care. The draft charter was developed following a review of existing patient rights charters and legislative bills across the six WHO regions in a consultative process.
The charter is here.
The WHO is currently seeking feedback on the charter. It is urging individual countries to adopt and disseminate the charter, adapting it where appropriate:
- assess how well the rights set out in the charter are already included in legal and policy frameworks and in healthcare practice and opportunities to do so;
- engage stakeholders and incorporate the rights into national and local policies, legislation and professional guidance;
- designate channels for reporting violations and set out remedial actions to address non-compliance;
- promote through communications campaigns; and
- include in healthcare worker training.
We do not need to wait for ratification of the Patient Safety Rights Charter to begin shaping our policies around its core principles and driving forward the movement towards ending avoidable patient harm.
I was honoured to chair the central panel of the conference on the concept of access to safe healthcare as a fundamental human right. Access to healthcare is a human right but what if healthcare itself causes harm? The panel discussion was an opportunity to hear from a wide range of views – patient representative, healthcare professional and provider representatives, parliamentarian, author and experts on human rights, to explore the introduction of a new human right to safe healthcare and the next steps towards implementation.
My reflections on the WHO conference were that there are many similarities in experience and examples of initiatives and improvements, from around the world from which we can learn. Listening to the experiences and perspectives of patients has been a gap that we need to address. In the words of William Osler (1849-1919) ‘Listen to your patient, he is telling you the diagnosis’. My role is to promote patient safety and promote the value of listening to patients. Working in partnership with patients we can truly engage patients for patient safety and ensure that we implement the learning from the experiences of harmed patients and families to reduce, or eliminate, avoidable harm.