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How patients are harmed in hospitals

It starts when the safety of health workers is not a priority

Kampala, Uganda | PATRICIA AKANKWATSA | The Center for Health, Human Rights and Development (CEHURD) says to ensure patient safety; priority should be placed on safety of health workers.

Moses Mulumba, the executive director of CEHURD, says the close relationship between the safety of patients and the safety of health workers has been magnified by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has reminded all of us of the vital role health workers play to relieve suffering and save lives,” he says.

He says the pandemic has placed extraordinary levels of psychological stress on health workers exposed to high-demand settings for long hours, living in constant fear of disease exposure, separated from family and facing social stigmatisation.

Mulumba’s views echo the position of the World Health Organisation (WHO)which recently highlighted an alarming rise in reports of verbal harassment, discrimination, and physical violence against health workers in the wake of COVID-19.

Mulumba says that the government should develop and implement national programmes for occupational health and safety of health workers.

“This will include appointment of officers specifically responsible for health and safety in health facilities and reporting and analysing serious safety related incidents,” he says.

He also says that health workers and health users should be protected from violence in health facilities by promoting a culture of zero tolerance to violence in health facilities.

“This should also provide for implementation mechanisms through which survivors can easily report cases of abuse to responsible officers,” he adds.

Mulumba was speaking when Uganda is celebrating World Patient Safety Day. For more than a decade, the status of patient safety globally was discussed without clear steps forward. This went on until May 2019, when the World Health Assembly agreed to mark off every September 17 as World Patient Safety Day.

The major objective of marking the day is to create awareness about patient safety and urge, especially for the member states to show their commitment in making health care safer.

“On this World Patient Safety Day, we remind the government that it has a legal and moral obligation to ensure the health safety and wellbeing of health facility workers and health facility users,” Mulumba says.

Patient safety, according to the World Health Organisation, refers to a healthcare discipline that basically aims at reducing and preventing the risks, errors and harm that occurs to patients during the provision of health care. The discipline emerged with the evolving complexity in healthcare systems and the resulting harm in facilities.

Statistically, over 2.6 million deaths occur annually due to unsafe care of patients in hospitals yet over 80 per cent of the harm created in different health facilities can be avoided.

The most common reasons for the occurrence of harm to patients are; medical errors caused by wrong prescriptions of medicines by unskilled or negligent medical personnel, lack of standard procedures for storage of medications that look alike, poor communication between the different health providers, lack of involvement of patients in their own care, and unsafe surgical and transfusion procedures, among others.

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