ISLAMABAD: A mission of international health experts, sent by the World Health Organisation (WHO) to look into the quality and safety of health services, has given a number of recommendations to address health-related issues in Pakistan.

The team observed that there are many challenges which should be given serious consideration.

Priority areas requiring attention include compliance with evidence-based patient safety standards and norms (for example infection prevention and control), regulation and registration of healthcare providers and facilities, development of a hospital culture that promotes open discussion of safety issues, and the need to improve primary healthcare facilities to reduce burden on hospitals.

Enrolling a group of hospitals in patient safety friendly hospital initiative also discussed with Pakistani leaders

On the other hand some positive steps were noted by the mission, including establishment of provincial healthcare commissions.

The delegation also visited hospitals in Islamabad, Lahore and Karachi, and met senior health leaders including Special Assistant to Prime Minister on Health Dr Zafar Mirza, Punjab health minister and health secretaries of Punjab and Sindh.

According to a statement of the Ministry of National Health Services, the mission observed that there was a clear commitment on part of health leaders and operational teams to maintain quality and safety of health standards.

“Discussion between the federal ministry and the delegation identified a list of priority areas including completion of a comprehensive review of quality and safety of healthcare facilities across Pakistan, enrolling a group of hospitals in the patient safety friendly hospital initiative and supporting them to meet the required standards and developing a national policy and strategy for quality of healthcare, with close involvement of provinces.

“To oversee all these efforts, a national steering committee will be created, supported by a network of focal points to support health facilities,” the statement states.

The WHO commits to continue working closely with the ministry to help improve quality and safety of health facilities, raise awareness of health issues among citizens and health workers, and ensure coordination among various initiatives.

The mission also held a peer learning meeting in which a representative from Oman shared experience of the patient safety friendly hospital initiative with hospitals and health leaders from across Pakistan, it states.

Dr Mirza, while speaking to members of the delegation, said that given the urgent need to addressing quality of healthcare, patient safety and infection prevention, he agreed with the findings of the experts and assured to work with WHO to implement the recommended actions and roadmap.

“We are pleased that Pakistan is aspiring to join our regional movement on patient safety. WHO is committed to working with the national and provincial governments to implement the patient safety friendly hospital initiative, develop a national policy and strategy for quality of healthcare, and improve infection prevention and control,” said Dr Mondher Letaief from WHO Eastern Mediterranean Regional Office.

“It is critical to make sure that health services are safe for the people they serve, and what we have learned in England is that unsafe care usually happens because of problems with the system, not with health workers.

“I have submitted my recommendations and look forward to following the progress of Pakistan as government, health workers and communities work together to develop a culture of quality and safety,” said international expert in patient safety Donna Forsyth.

Published in Dawn, July 17th, 2019