The 2020 Patient Safety Policy Summit

The 2020 Patient Safety Policy Summit

  • Issue 79

Dr Daniel Arnal, Chair of the ESA Patient Safety & Quality Committee in conversation with Helen Brewer, EU Affairs Manager at the ESA

HB: Dr Arnal, can you tell us about the background to the Summit?

Of course, with pleasure! The Summit, which takes place in March 2020 in the European Parliament will mark the 10thanniversary of the Helsinki Declaration on Patient Safety in Anaesthesiology. The Declaration has been signed by more than 300 medical societies and other organisations worldwide – we all know that it makes sense! However, we recently carried out a survey across Europe, which shows that uptake and implementation of the declaration has been patchy.

HB: Really? What did the survey show?

It was mixed – on the one hand we can see that the Declaration has encouraged the implementation of protocols for crises during anaesthesia. However, the survey confirmed our suspicion that more than half of respondents don’t contribute to an annual report of mortality and morbidity – therefore, hospitals are not keeping track of what goes wrong or what improvements they make. Even more worrying, almost a quarter don’t systematically use an incident reporting system. And more than 20 percent don’t systematically follow the Safe Surgery Checklist! Just think about the numbers – with some 80m surgeries carried out in Europe each year, that means more than 16m interventions are putting patients at an unnecessarily increased risk of harm – we need to change that!

HB: Absolutely – that’s a wake-up call for us all! What makes you think that the politicians can help?

Well, I certainly hope they can! We realised that implementation seems to be better where there is more political support – from hospital management, from regional and national authorities, and in countries where there are patient safety campaigns and greater public awareness. So, we are bringing the topic to the decisionmakers in the health policy world to tell them why patient safety matters.

HB: Great! And how is it going so far?

I am really excited by the interest and support of colleagues from around Europe – and not just the anaesthesiologists! We learned that our colleagues in the operating room – the surgeons, the nurses, the hospital pharmacists – as well as the patients – all share similar concerns. So, we are bringing these groups together to urge policymakers to address this in a comprehensive manner – we need a common approach to patient safety.

HB : Yes, that sounds like the way to go! And what about the anaesthesiologists?

The interest from the anaesthesiology community has been really encouraging too! Our colleagues in Slovakia, Portugal, Croatia, Romania & Cyprus, amongst others have told us how pleased they are that we are raising the visibility of this topic and how helpful it will be within their own healthcare systems to have EU endorsement. They have also offered to help connect us with key individuals in their Ministries of Health and with MEPs. This is incredibly helpful – I am so grateful to them for this support – together we are unstoppable!

HB: Talking of unstoppable, there seems to be increasing momentum on the patient safety topic at the moment?

Yes! I believe there is a perfect ‘window of opportunity’ right now to push patient safety up the political agenda.

HB: So what’s been happening?

Lots has been happening! In the last five years we have had five global ministerial patient safety summits and the WHO has approved an annual World Patient Safety Day to be marked each year on 17th September. The range of events and importance attributed to the Day by different countries was truly impressive – and monuments all around the world were illuminated in orange – from Jamaica to Japan, from the Pyramids to the Pearl Tower in Shanghai!

Since then I have heard that patient safety will be included in the agenda of the next meeting of the G20 – this is an amazing achievement.

HB: Wow! That is a remarkable level of visibility and political intent for a topic that is not often in the public eye! I’m impressed! So – going back to the consensus statement, what is it and what will it achieve?

Well, the statement is like a political declaration, developed by us, the European Society of Anaesthesiology, in collaboration with the other healthcare organisations that are endorsing the Summit. Building on the Helsinki Declaration, it will include recommendations to Member States as well as the European Institutions on adopting a common patient safety approach across areas that are important to us all, such as education & training, data collection, multi-disciplinary teamwork & patient engagement. We will be urging policymakers to ensure that patients are protected from harm before during and after surgery – wherever in Europe they may be!

HB: Congratulations – this is really an exciting step for ESA. So what does this all lead to?

Well as you know, advocacy is a long-term work-in-progress, and we will always be competing with many other topics! However we are building a strong foundation to keep patient safety on the radar of the politicians. In the short term we hope that the consensus statement will be picked up by our MEP supporters and serve as the basis for a concrete political instrument, for example a Motion for a Resolution, which would put the topic into the agenda of the European Parliament. Over the longer term we are also working hard to ensure that funding is available for research into perioperative patient safety, so that we can generate new insights into how to prevent harm and improve patient outcomes.

HB: Dr Arnal, thank you very much, we wish you the very best with the Policy Summit – please do let us know how it goes!

Please contact Helen Brewer  (, tel + 32 496 285 664) if you would like more information about our EU activities.