Patient safety is defined as freedom for a patient from unnecessary harm or potential harm associated with healthcare. It is a serious concern in the European Union. Recent studies consistently show, in an increasing number of countries, that healthcare errors occur in around 10% of hospitalisations, although adverse events take place in all settings where healthcare is delivered, including in primary care, secondary care, community care, social care and private care, in acute and chronic care.
European cooperation on patient safety is needed to improve patient care for people throughout the EU, whether they seek care in their own countries or in other Member States. Efforts to improve patient safety depend on effective and sustained policies and programmes being in place throughout Europe.
Patient safety is high on the EU policy agenda. In 2005, Member States established a mechanism to discuss and take forward patient safety issues as a healthcare priority. A working group was set up under the High Level Group on Health Services and Medical Care through which the European Commission aims to facilitate and support its Member States in their work and activities. The World Health Organization (primarily through the World Alliance on Patient Safety), the Council of Europe, the OECD and European associations of patients, doctors, nurses, pharmacists, dentists and hospitals are also active members of the working group.
The European Commission is currently developing a proposal which will address the important issues of general and systemic patient safety concerns.