As the globe marks World Patient Safety Day today, the National Health Ministry has called for the country’s healthcare professionals to avoid any form of negligence and, with that, the threat of litigation.

Often, medical errors are underreported for fear of legal action, but Deputy Minister of Health, Dr Sibongiseni Dhlomo, believes this can be overcome since most medical errors are preventable.

“We should at all times do our level best to avoid any negligence or harm to our patients while striving to achieve the best possible outcomes,” Dhlomo said.

This year’s theme for World Patient Safety Day, celebrated on 17 September each year, is ‘medication without harm’.

Leading cause of avoidable harm

The World Health Organisation (WHO) states that unsafe medication practices and errors are the leading causes of avoidable harm. Errors occur when weak medication systems are in place combined with human factors such as fatigue and poor environmental or staff conditions.

Professor Renier Coetzee, a Pharmacist and Associate Professor at the University of the Western Cape School of Public Health, explained that medication errors are any preventable event that may cause or lead to inappropriate medication use or patient harm while the medication is in the control of the healthcare professional, patient, or consumer.

“Such events may be related to prescribing, order communication and product labelling, among others,” Coetzee said.

Types of medical errors

He further stated that types of medication errors include:

  • Wrong doses, medicines or choices
  • Missed doses
  • Wrong frequency or technique
  • Inadequate monitoring
  • Equipment failure and;
  • Medicine interactions

“Some of the safety risks emanate due to incorrect storage, prescribing, dispensing and administration. These account for at least 50% of the total preventable harm in medical care,” stated Dhlomo.

He believes that it is possible to minimise incidents and drive improvements in safety and quality by ensuring that patients are treated in a safe environment.

The role of healthcare providers

“It is our collective responsibility to minimise the unintended harm on patients,” he said.

He also stated that systems have been put in place to ensure medication safety across the country, and stakeholders in all sectors have taken up the challenge to prevent harm and improve the rational use of medicines.

Dhlomo says that due to patients’ safety risks claims, healthcare providers such as the health department bear the brunt of financial loss through medical claims.

“Although the patients suffer the most, the healthcare providers’ integrity takes a knock, and financial losses hit hard through medico-legal claims. Our priority should not be to avoid litigation, but to put the patient’s health first,” he said.

NHI factor

The deputy minister further indicated that assessing the burden of medicine-related harm in South Africa is also needed, especially as the country is set to adopt the NatioPatienth Insurance (NHI).

“Patient safety is more essential as the country moves towards NHI. Systems to ensure medication safety will become even more important to ensure patients receive effective and appropriate treatment. Medicine safety needs to be prioritised in all settings of the healthcare systems through the allocation of resources,” added Dhlomo.

Dr Kibachio Mwangi, Advisor for Non-communicable Diseases and Mental Health at WHO, said that while everyone can be a victim of medication harm, old age and the amount of medication one takes can increase the risk.

“The older you get and the more drugs you need to treat chronic illnesses, the higher the risk of medication complications. Some of these things become confusing, even for healthcare workers,” stated Mwangi. – Health-e News