National governments will promise next month (9 June) to improve their record on patient safety and do more to stop people catching infections in hospitals.
Every year, 8%-12% of patients admitted to hospital are harmed by their care, becoming victims of medical errors or catching a hospital-acquired bug such as MRSA.
“Europe can give patients more safety,” said Katja Neubauer, a principal administrator at the European Commission's directorate-general for health and consumers. She indicated that health ministers were ready to adopt an EU recommendation on patient safety when they meet in Luxembourg (8-9 June).
The Commission wants national governments to make sure that health authorities treat patient safety as a priority and draw up strategies to prevent and control hospital-acquired infections. National governments will also agree to share data and find common ways to identify and classify safety problems. Governments back the proposal, although some of the more prescriptive elements and scientific definitions will be dropped from the final text.
Speaking at a European Voice event on quality and safety standards in healthcare on Tuesday (26 May), Neubauer said that the draft recommendation was already showing results. “I think it has already had an impact in the sense that it has raised awareness. It has put the issue on the table,” she said. But she acknowledged that tangible outcomes of such resolutions were difficult to measure with hard data. The Commission will have to report on the recommendation's impact within three years.
Josep Figueras, head of the World Health Organization's European centre on health policy, said that such recommendations change policies “because patient organisations use them to put pressure on member states”.
The speakers also considered the case of a German doctor who killed a British patient while working as an out-of-hours locum in the UK. Neubauer said that there was no evidence of a problem with the 2005 directive on mutual recognition of professional qualifications. This law requires member states to share information about disciplinary action and criminal sanctions. “If we see evidence that it [the directive] is not working then we will certainly do something about it, but we have to have some solid information,” she said. The Commission's internal market department will conduct a routine review on how the law is working.
Günther Jonitz, a surgeon and president of the Berlin chamber of physicians, suggested that the fault in the German doctor case lay with UK agencies that hired the doctor, rather than European law. He said he was “astonished” that the doctor was hired. He said there was a problem with at least two UK agencies that were supposed to have assessed the doctor.