Patient safety is a global challenge and, in May 2019, the 72nd World Health Assembly — through which World Health Organization (WHO) is governed by its member states — agreed that a World Patient Safety Day would be commemorated annually each year on 17 September, commencing in 2019.
This year’s theme is ‘Patient Safety: a global health priority’ and its slogan will be ‘Speak up for patient safety’. The WHO wants participating countries to consider how they can encourage patients, families, caregivers, communities, healthcare workers, healthcare leaders and policymakers to come together in a shared commitment to patient safety. A world map on the WHO’s dedicated webpage outlines the many activities that are planned to take place worldwide to recognise the day.
The WHO has identified medication safety as a vital aspect of patient safety and, in April 2017, it launched its third global patient safety challenge ‘Medication without harm’. The goal of this challenge is to reduce the level of severe, avoidable harm related to medications by 50% over five years across the world.
It identified three essential action areas in relation to medication safety, and has recently published technical reports in each of these areas: ‘Medication safety in polypharmacy’; ‘Medication safety in transitions of care’; and ‘Medication safety in high risk situations’.
Pharmacists have pioneered research into the identification and avoidance of medication errors and they continue to play an essential role in correcting them, as well as in supporting people to take their medication safely. NHS Improvement’s NHS Patient Safety Strategy, published in July 2019, describes what the NHS will do to continuously improve patient safety. An initial set of evidence-based priority projects identified in the strategy will involve pharmacists and other healthcare professionals working together to improve the safe use of certain medicines often categorised as high-risk (high-alert) medications, such as anticoagulants and opioids, and to address issues around problematic polypharmacy.
The Royal Pharmaceutical Society’s (RPS) guide to the science underpinning pharmaceutical practice ‘New medicines, better medicines, better use of medicines’ has recommended further research into the causes of medication errors in patients and into interventions to reduce those errors.
The guide also highlighted the need for improved patient understanding of the risks and benefits of their medication. The opportunities and challenges facing pharmacy professionals in relation to safer use of medicines will be discussed at the ‘RPS annual conference 2019: medicines safety’ in London on 17 November 2019. Registration is free for RPS members.
Phil Routledge, chair, on behalf of the Safer Use of Medicines Working Group, Royal Pharmaceutical Society Science and Research Board