My First Chairman’s Letter

It’s a daunting proposition to be asked to be the chair of the Patient Safety Movement Foundation and write my first Chairman’s Letter. All the more so since I follow in the footsteps of two of the greats in the world of patient safety: Dr. Michael Ramsay, our previous Chair, who has stepped into the role of Chief Executive Officer of the PSMF; and Dr. Dave Mayer, who recently retired from his volunteer CEO role after three years of service. 

Dave needs special mention for his leadership role as CEO, working with both Joe Kiani as Founder and Chair, and subsequently Mike Ramsey and also for his incredibly brave and committed journey to accomplish his Walk Across America for Patient Safety. I am sure many of us have started off with such aspirations, but not many have completed the task and raised the profile of concern as much as he has done.

Joe also deserves our commendation as he has been recognized by President Biden in his capacity as an important and recognized global leader in his field. 

President Biden has appointed Joe to the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST). I think we can be pretty sure that Joe will also be flying the flag of patient safety at every opportunity afforded by this outstanding recognition. 

I carry forward the baton as PSMF Chairman at a new pivot in the continuing COVID-19 pandemic. We’re in a phase of the pandemic in which the global vaccination drive is playing such a vital role in creating the opportunity to go to a “new normal.” However, we must recognize that, at the moment, for many billions across the world, that is still a distant dream. In the developed world, complacency, apathy and vaccine hesitancy are now impeding the progress necessary to bring our healthcare systems, our educational establishments and our economies back to previous states. In the majority of the populated world, there is still an imbalance between vaccinated groups in all the low and middle-income countries, also due to vaccine hesitancy, and social media influences, but mainly as a result of shortages in supply.

However, this year has been a turning point for patient safety; the global COVID-19 pandemic has brought patient safety into the limelight.  We are continuing to build on our Global Action on Patient Safety through the World Health Organization (WHO) Global Action Plan. The role of Infection Prevention and Control (IPC) and safe physical and social behaviors has never been clearer on the global health agenda. It has also been a year of recognizing the paramount importance of healthcare workers in providing safe care.  

In identifying the direction of world patient safety, we need to be future-focused. We talk often about planning and measurement, but do we really spend as much time as possible on implementing action to reduce harm? The PSMF has led the way in developing a suite of proven and evidence-based, implementable Actionable Patient Safety Solutions (APSS). We should now re-assert their place at the center of our efforts to support patients and families as well as health workers.

It is clear that as we move to a ‘new normal’ following the pandemic, we need to consider patient safety both in terms of known and enduring problems, but also in terms of future and emerging threats. The pandemic has taught us the importance of acting early to address major public health threats – this is certainly a paradigm that can be extended to patient safety. 

We must never forget the impact of workforce fatigue and burnout among our healthcare heroes who have been working at the front lines of the pandemic for over 20 months. We also need to be more aware of health security. The public health rhetoric around health security encourages us to anticipate threats to our health system. In terms of patient safety, we also need to ensure we take this approach when thinking about the safety, well-being and health of our workers. 

When health systems are pressured, it is the workers within them who are called upon to deliver quality for patients, regardless of the conditions around them. Healthcare workers have stood at the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic. For many healthcare workers, especially those in areas of extreme adversity, they have done this while also battling war, poverty and social injustice. 

Last year we all worked to identify with WHO that patient safety means healthcare worker safety. Times like these provide a window of clarity upholding patient safety requires prioritizing healthcare worker safety.

The pandemic has also changed the provision of medical care. Elective care has been delayed to adhere to COVID-19 protocols and keep workloads low enough to deal with COVID-19 patients in hospitals. Delaying elective care, including key elements such as cancer screenings, has led to delayed diagnoses for many conditions, which has impacted patient safety. 

Finally, we must consider the additional impact of global warming and the challenges of climate change as they affect human health and disease, especially in light of COP26, the recent United Nations climate change conference. According to the World Health Organization, “Climate change affects the social and environmental determinants of health – clean air, safe drinking water, sufficient food and secure shelter.”

As I take the helm as the Chairman of the Patient Safety Movement Foundation, I do so with these and other challenges in mind. Let’s work together towards ZERO harm for our patients across the globe.

Mike Durkin

Chairman, Patient Safety Movement Foundation