How patient safety begins with safe health workers

Thursday, September 17 marked the celebration of World Patient Safety Day 2020. Since its inception, World Patient Safety Day has had three primary goals: enhance the global understanding of patient safety, increase public engagement in the safety of health care, and promote global actions to enhance patient safety and reduce patient harm.

An interesting observation about this year’s call for action - Speak up for health worker safety! - is that is does not even mention patients.  The reason for this is because there is growing evidence that health worker safety and well-being are essential for patient safety. As defined in the just released Safer Together: A National Action Plan To Advance Patient Safety, workforce safety is “the commitment to the safety and fortification of the health care workforce as a necessary precondition to advancing patient safety.” I have purposefully highlighted the word “precondition” to emphasize the essential link between healthy, “knowledgeable, skilled, and motivated health workers” with the provision of safe, high quality patient care.

Safe patient care is the primary focus of our efforts in providing health care - “first, do no harm” - and we must acknowledge that a critical component of safe care is a safe workplace.  Safe care for patients is not an accident - it is the result of a tightly interwoven network of guidelines and behaviors shared amongst all health workers. Assuring the safety of each and every health worker fosters a care model that encourages respect and promotes well-being for the entire health care team.  As stated succinctly in the Safer Together action plan, “Health care workers who are safe are more likely to think, act, and practice in a safe way.” With its emphasis on health worker safety, this year’s call for action is a great illustration of the celebration’s goal to promotion actions that enhance patient safety.

The targeted goals for this year’s World Patient Safety Day build upon this concept, especially poignant in 2020 with the COVID-19 pandemic, that health worker safety is necessary for patient safety. The 2020 goals include raising global awareness about the importance of health worker safety and its interlinkages with patient safety, engaging multiple stakeholders to adopt strategies to improve the safety of health workers and patients, implementing urgent and sustainable actions by all stakeholders which recognize and invest in the safety of health workers, as a priority for patient safety, and providing due recognition of health workers’ dedication and hard work, particularly amid the current fight against COVID-19. Whether from the chronic effects of burnout or acute risk of exposure during a pandemic, health care workers must be protected to ensure they are in the best position to safely care their patients.

As with any campaign to achieve total systems safety, locally or globally, we must expand our awareness to all potential hazards and work proactively to mitigate or eliminate the hazards. Through a systems-approach to safety, we can identify preconditions, like health worker safety, to assure patient safety. Promotion of health worker safety is a critical component of any action plan to advance patient safety.

In the spirit of World Patient Safety Day 2020, I express my sincerest gratitude for the hard work, dedication, and tireless effort of health workers. Thank you for your commitment today and every day to the safety and well-being of patients.  We are safer because of you.

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