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CPSI Share                                                    
3/15/2019 9:00 AM

#SuperSHIFTERS Brian Penner, Government Relations Committee Chair, and Linda Hughes, Co-Chair of Patients for Patient Safety Canada (PFPSC), shared their insights on advocating for patient safety. The Government Relations Committee is made up of these two individuals, along with PFPSC members: Judy Birdsell, Katarina Busija, Allison Kooijman, Maryanne Murray, Sharon Nettleton, and Donna Penner. This group of energetic patient safety advocates work tirelessly to elevate the profile of patient safety in Canada, to raise expectations for improvement among governments, the public and patients themselves.

Why did Patients for Patients Safety Canada form a Government Relations Committee?
About two years ago, we had an in-person meeting of PFPSC members, where we established our priorities over the next few years. One of those priorities was to increase public awareness of patient safety and patients as partners. A key initiative that came out of that discussion was to increase awareness with federal, provincial and territorial governments. To fully engage with politicians we needed to be organized. From that, the Government Relations Committee was formed; eight PFPSC members volunteered to sit on the Committee. Our mandate is to connect with government officials at the national, provincial and local level.

What can you tell us about your Patients at Parliament campaign?
On October 30, 2018, in conjunction with Canadian Patient Safety Week (CPSW), 13 patients from across Canada travelled to Ottawa to participate in Patients at Parliament, a unique campaign to raise awareness of patient safety with parliamentarians. Five teams of patient advocates met face-to-face with 31 members of Parliament and Senators in ten buildings across the parliamentary precinct over the course of eight hours. Participants spoke about their personal experience with harm and delivered medication safety messages from the CPSW campaign. Members of the Standing Committee on Health were selected as a priority and we looked for both regional and all-party representation in selecting the parliamentarians to visit.

We provided copies of the Five Questions to Ask About Your Medications and asked them to share it widely. We talked about the importance of a national reporting system to report adverse events and a pharmacare program to collect and disseminate information on medication errors. We also asked them to support the Health Canada petition calling for Plain Language labelling on medications.

A lot of groundwork happened to make our visits productive. We were armed with an information package prepared by the Government Relations staff at the Canadian Patient Safety Institute that provided us with background data, biographies and talking points to keep our discussions on track, and of course maps so that we did not get lost as we moved from one building to another. We were accompanied by CPSI staff who kept our meetings on track and helped us to move efficiently between the scheduled appointments.

Were there any key learnings from the Patients at Parliament meetings?
First and foremost, the meetings reinforced the power of the narrative story. For each meeting, one member of the team told a personal story about patient safety and how they were harmed by the healthcare system. That really resonated with the politicians and many of them had personal stories to tell us as well.

Second, while we made a fairly big impact with this inaugural campaign, our work does not stop there. Some of the MP offices contacted us in the days following the meetings to ask for more information, but overall the range of awareness and understanding of patient safety as a significant issue varied. It reinforced the value of a personal connection and the importance of following up.

Third, an event like this is a great way to build awareness and start to build a relationship with government officials. We took away some dos and don'ts that will provide a template that we can apply for future meetings with MPs and MLAs.

What's next for the Government Relations Committee?
As a follow-up to our meetings on Parliament Hill, we want to make a presentation to the Standing Committee on Health to reinforce the importance of patient safety. We want to reinforce the need for legislation and regulations on mandatory reporting of adverse events and medication errors.

We made a good start in increasing awareness on the widespread and serious problem of harm in healthcare. We will continue our outreach to federal parliamentarians and expand our efforts to include provincial elected officials. We are still at an early stage of planning our provincial campaign, and are looking to hold a number of round table discussions to raise awareness of patient safety across the country.

We have developed a draft guide to serve as a template for patient engagement with governments. The guide is currently being tested with PFPSC members and is expected to be made available by mid-2019.  

The Government Relations Committee will be working closely with the PFPSC Communications Committee to implement a major public awareness campaign. A recent IPSOS survey confirmed that once people know that patient safety incidents are the third leading cause of death in Canada, they become very concerned. We will advocate for the consolidation and dissemination of data on patient safety incidents; and push for legislation and regulations to ensure full disclosure to patients and families when a harmful event occurs. Every patient safety incident should involve the patient and family at the outset and throughout the process.

How can we get more information?
Direct your questions and comments to: More information is available at