The first-ever World Patient Safety Day is taking place on Sept 17, 2019. Every day, countless patients worldwide are put at risk by unsafe care and end up requiring treatment for ailments caused by the very system that was supposed to help them get better. Protecting patients from errors, injuries, accidents, and infections is an essential goal for every health system, but no health system has so far successfully addressed patient safety.

Some of the statistics proffered by WHO to high-light patient safety are striking. In low-income and middle-income countries (LMICs), 134 million adverse events per year are directly attributable to unsafe care. These adverse events—including misdiagnosis, hospital-acquired infections, and medical errors—lead to 2·6 million unnecessary deaths. Worldwide, the risk of patient death because of a preventable medical accident is one in 300. One in ten patients suffer injury while receiving health care, and 15% of all hospital expenses are incurred as a result of treating failures in patient safety.

Patient safety hinges on quality of care. The Lancet Global Health’s 2018 Commission highlighted the need for “high-quality health systems that optimise health care in each context by consistently delivering care that improves or maintains health”. It feels obvious to state that a health-care system should aim to improve the health of those accessing it. Similarly, all health professionals expect that patients will have their condition improved by health care. However, the data compiled by WHO should be a wake-up call as they would be in any other industry. So what can be done?

First, do no harm. The safety of patients must be the paramount concern of professionals and the systems they work in. Rather than a platitude, this ask is an exhortation to strengthen systems, build better infrastructure, and value strong leadership. Reporting in US hospitals shows some health-care-associated infections can be reduced by as much as 70% with proper patient safety interventions that include stan-dardised clinician education, proper notification processes, and strict hand hygiene procedures. However, the WHO hand hygiene guidelines sug-gest compliance with proper hygiene can be as low s 40%. Hence, a greater effort needs to be made in monitoring and ensuring that basic practices of patient safety are strong and robust across all institutions, no matter how obvious the need for such procedures.

Second, health professionals must recognise that patient safety is a two-way partnership. Patients must be involved—indeed be central—in their own care. The myriad ways inadvertent harm can be done to patients indicate that everyone, from policy maker and health advocate to caregiver and health worker, holds a vital stake in patient safety. Indeed, evidence suggests that involving patients, service users, and carers in important decisions relating to care and treatment strengthens patient safety and is the best way for patients to achieve a positive outcome. As WHO comments, “safe health care starts with good communication”.

Finally, awareness of the burden that patient safety requirements place on LMICs is needed: addressing all improvements necessary for increased patient safety require resources. Two-thirds of all adverse events resulting from unsafe care occur in LMICs. Health professionals in high-income countries must ask themselves what they can do, not just to promote patient safety in their own system but also to offer outreach, support, resources, and expertise to LMICs bearing the burden of raised patient safety standards, rapidly changing disease patterns, and expectations of achieving the same development goals.

Recognising the importance of patient safety world wide is something that strikes right at the philosophical heart of health care. A Comment in this issue highlights how patient safety is now a core part of the move towards universal health coverage and states, importantly, that “addressing systemic, organisational, cultural and behavioural drivers of patient harm remains extremely challenging and a lot of known problems remain unsolved”. World Patient Safety Day is a prompt to everyone involved in care to examine their role in contributing to these drivers. In the treatment of immediate illness, health-care systems must offer best practice and consistent treatment for all patients, and at all levels, to ensure further damage is prevented.

The Lancet
www.thelancet.com Vol 394 September 14, 2019