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9/5/2019 2:00 AM

Contributed by Sandi Kossey

"I ask you all to join with WHO in celebrating the first World Patient Safety Day on 17 September this year. World Patient Safety Day is an opportunity to advance global action on patient safety as a growing public health challenge."
Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director General, World Health Organization (WHO)

Every second of every day, someone in the world suffers an avoidable harm – or has the risk of being harmed – while receiving healthcare. Avoidable harm occurs in all healthcare settings and no one is immune. Patient safety incidents impact all people – patients and their families, healthcare providers and leaders, policymakers –and all of society experiences the tragic consequences. Yet despite the best efforts to address the ongoing toll and effects of preventable harm, the epidemic magnitude of this public health crisis remains largely unrecognized.

The burden of injuries and other harm to patients from adverse events is likely one of the top 10 causes of death and disability in the world, comparable to that of tuberculosis and malaria. The available evidence suggests that most of this burden falls on low- and middle-income countries, where 134 million healthcare-associated adverse events occur annually in hospitals, due to unsafe care, contributing to 2.6 million deaths.1 According to a RiskAnalytica study (2017) that was commissioned by the Canadian Patient Safety Institute, in Canada, patient safety incidents are ranked the third highest cause of mortality, behind cancer and heart disease. In hospitals and home care settings across the country, preventable harm occurs every 1 minute and 18 seconds, and someone dies from a patient safety incident every 13 minutes and 14 seconds. That is nearly 28,000 people per year.2

Many countries have prioritized patient safety and observe a national or international patient safety day or week, such as Canadian Patient Safety Week, held annually across the country. This year, for the first time, Canada will join countries around the world to recognize World Patient Safety Day to promote all aspects of patient safety. World Patient Safety Day aims to inspire global action for safer systems, services, procedures and practices in healthcare to eliminate avoidable harm, and manage and mitigate risks of harm to people in all care settings.

The 72nd World Health Assembly (WHA) recognized patient safety as a global health priority and the 144th Session of the WHO Executive Board adopted the WHA Resolution (WHA72.6), 'Global action on patient safety'.3 The resolution endorses the establishment of the first annual World Patient Safety Day, September 17, 2019.4 Globally, this landmark milestone represents a major achievement in the WHO patient safety movement after more than 17 long years, and is the 11th campaign mandated by the WHO, joining the ranks of other notable public health priorities such as World Cancer Day and World AIDS Day.

In recognition of longstanding contributions to patient safety improvement in Canada and globally, with the support of the Government of Canada, and on the invitation of the WHO Director General, the Canadian Patient Safety Institute was designated as a WHO Collaborating Centre on Patient Safety and Patient Engagement in 2017. We have been actively involved in the events and planning leading up to the resolution and the global campaign, and are excited to coordinate World Patient Safety Day efforts in Canada.

The theme selected for the inaugural World Patient Safety Day is "Speak up for patient safety". WHO member states/countries from all WHO regions around the world are coordinating memorable and significant events for scaling up patient safety in a national context that create awareness, excitement, involvement, and draw out emotion and compassion. To learn more, visit

To recognize the first World Patient Safety Day in Canada, the Canadian Patient Safety Institute, Health Standards Organization (HSO), and CAE Healthcare are hosting a screening of To Err is Human in Ottawa on September 17, 2019. This in-depth documentary addresses this silent epidemic and offers profound insights from those working behind the scenes to fix it. To Err is Human was produced by the family of the late Dr. John M. Eisenberg, a pioneer in patient safety as a past Director of the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) in the US, as a tribute to continue the legacy of his important mission. The film showcases solutions, easy to implement, to dramatically and immediately improve the quality and safety of healthcare. The film presentation will be followed by provocative panel discussion including Chris Power, CEO, Canadian Patient Safety Institute, Leslee Thompson, President & CEO, HSO & Accreditation Canada, and Dr. Robert Amyot, Chief Strategic Advisor, CAE Healthcare.

We invite you to join us in marking the first World Patient Safety Day. To learn how you can get involved, visit or follow the Canadian Patient Safety Institute on social media.

Sandi Kossey is Senior Director of Strategic Partnerships and Priorities and Director/Head of the WHO Collaborating Centre for Patient Safety and Patient Engagement for the Canadian Patient Safety Institute. Engage with Sandi on Twitter @ptsafety_sandi

Participants of the World Patient Safety Day planning session (June 2019)Participants of the World Patient Safety Day planning session (June 2019)


1 Presentation at the "Patient Safety - A Grand Challenge for Healthcare Professionals and Policymakers Alike" a Roundtable at the Grand Challenges Meeting of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, 18 October 2018

2 RiskAnalytica. The Case for Investing in Patient Safety in Canada. 2017. Canadian Patient Safety Institute.

3 Report by the Director General, World Health Organization (WHO). Global Action on Patient Safety. December 2018.

4 World Health Assembly (WHA) Resolution EB144.R12. Global action on patient safety. 2018. WHO, p.  27.