ICN CEO: “Not enough to listen to patients, we must act on what they say to really improve patient safety and quality care”

15 September 2023
PR 29

Ahead of World Patient Day (17 September), International Council of Nurses (ICN) Chief Executive Officer Howard Catton is calling for urgent action on patient safety to back-up the World Health Organization’s new charter on patient safety rights. Mr Catton was speaking after the WHO-hosted global conference on patient safety and patient engagement concluded with agreement on the first-ever Patient Safety Rights Charter.

The ICN CEO, who moderated one of the group sessions reviewing the Charter, underlined the importance of creating a culture in healthcare settings that advocates for continuous learning and quality improvement and a culture that supports transparency, and listens and acts on the feedback of patients and health workers. He called on governments to heed the tragic stories of patients and relatives of patients who were harmed or died unnecessarily and take urgent action to make patient safety a renewed priority.

Mr Catton said the new Patient Safety Rights Charter, coupled with the Health Worker Safety Charter launched in 2020, was an important step on the way to making health services safer for patients. But he said only committed action would make a difference to families and prevent further tragic accidents:

“The theme of this year’s World Patient Safety Day is about engaging patients in their own care. One of the ways we must do that is to ensure that people are really listened to, and their concerns addressed. Unfortunately, and sometimes tragically, patient feedback often goes into a blackhole instead of becoming the oxygen to stimulate safety and quality improvement.

‘The conference heard many stories directly from patients and the families of patients who have suffered harm and died unnecessarily because of a patient safety issue. It was incredibly moving to hear those heartbreaking stories about incidents that were all, tragically, avoidable. Hearing such stories is so powerful because they force us see the lives of the people involved, rather than just the statistics on a page.

‘It is crucial that decision makers in healthcare organizations hear such stories, not just to motivate them to act, but also so that the views and suggestions of patients and their relatives, who have unique insights into what is happening within healthcare situations, can be heard and acted upon.”

After the conference Mr Catton held a bilateral meeting at ICN head office with the Executive Director of the World Patients Alliance (WPA), Hussein Jafri and founding Director, Jolanta Bilinska where they agreed to hold a joint webinar around person centred care, particularly improving the engagement of patients.

Mr Catton said: “Patient engagement is more than just asking people what they think: it is about listening and then involving them in solutions that make their experiences safer and more positive, and their health outcomes better.”

ICN has previously emphasised the fact that patient safety and healthcare worker safety are intimately linked, and that patients are safer when there are appropriate nurse staffing levels, and when healthcare organizations have open and transparent cultures where lessons are learned from mistakes.

World Patient Safety Day

The World Health Organization’s (WHO) World Patient Safety Day, which is observed annually on September 17, is intended to raise global awareness about patient safety and call for action to reduce patient harm.

This year’s theme, Engaging Patients for Patient Safety, aims to highlight the vital role that patients, families and caregivers play in the safety of health care.

It emphasises that treating patients as partners in their own care generates significant gains in their safety, satisfaction and health outcomes.

Using the slogan, Elevate the Voice of Patients, WHO hopes to achieve the following objectives among its member states:

  • Raising global awareness of the need for active engagement of patients and their families and caregivers in all settings and at all levels of health care to improve patient safety.
  • Engaging policymakers, healthcare leaders, health and care workers, patients’ organizations, civil society and other stakeholders in efforts to engage patients and families in the policies and practices for safe health care.
  • Empowering patients and families to be actively involved in their own health care and in the improvement of safety of health care.
  • Advocating for urgent action on patient and family engagement, aligned with the Global Patient Safety Action Plan 2021–2030, to be taken by all partners.