UN names prominent United Kingdom health expert as envoy for patient safety

21 July 2011

The head of the United Nations World Health Organization (WHO) today appointed Liam Donaldson of the United Kingdom as its envoy for patient safety to help mobilize support on the issue among donors, philanthropic organizations and governments.

The head of the United Nations World Health Organization (WHO) today appointed Liam Donaldson of the United Kingdom as its envoy for patient safety to help mobilize support on the issue among donors, philanthropic organizations and governments.

“With this nomination, WHO is signalling the importance of ensuring that patients get safe, high quality health care all around the world,” said Margaret Chan, the WHO Director-General, announcing the appointment in Geneva.

“With the support and intellectual leadership of Sir Liam, the Patient Safety Programme has grown from a small specialist initiative within WHO to a global advocacy and scientific community, with activities in over 140 countries and all six WHO regions. It is now poised to do even more.” Sir Liam served as the UK’s chief medical officer between 1998 and last year.

Every year, hundreds of thousands of patients worldwide are harmed or die while using health services. According to WHO data and other sources, patient safety incidents occur in between four and 16 per cent of all hospitalized patients.

A recent WHO report on the burden of endemic health care-associated infection worldwide estimates that such infections affect hundreds of millions of people globally. The burden is at least twice as high in developing countries compared to developed countries.

WHO’s Patient Safety Programme – formerly known as the World Alliance for Patient Safety – was established in 2004 to coordinate, facilitate and accelerate patient safety improvements around the world. The programme has been raising global awareness and knowledge about the importance of patient safety to build and maintain effective health systems and services.

The programme created the world’s only “Patients for Patient Safety” movement, and obtained 124 country pledges to reduce health care-associated infections. The world’s first ever “Safe Surgery Checklist” used by more than 1,500 hospitals was also launched under the programme. More than 13,000 health-care settings worldwide have taken action to reduce infection rates through improved hand hygiene.

“We have come a long way in raising the world’s awareness of patient safety, but challenges still remain,” said Sir Liam.

“Health care has not achieved the level of safety of many other high-risk industries. Citizens of countries around the world find it incredible that errors lead to patients getting the wrong operation or the wrong medication, sometimes with fatal consequences. Lessons need to be learned from such tragedies and action taken. The WHO Patient Safety Programme will be the cornerstone of a renewed effort globally to address these issues,” he added.

 

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