ISLAMABAD - Declaring quality and safety of health services a critical issue for Pakistan, World Health Organization (WHO) experts on Tuesday recommended to improve primary healthcare infrastructure to reduce the number of patients using hospitals.

A statement issued by the Ministry of National Health Services (NHS) here, a delegation of WHO and international experts conducted a five-day mission to properly respond to the current challenging situation in health sector.

It said, the delegation visited hospitals in Islamabad, Lahore and Karachi, and met with senior health leaders including Federal Health Minister, Punjab Health Minister, and Health Secretary for Punjab and Sindh. They also held discussions with the Health Care Commissions of Punjab and Sindh. The delegation also shared its findings to the Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Health Dr. Zafar Mirza which said that many challenges in health sector should be given a serious consideration and be effectively addressed.

It said that priority areas requiring attention include compliance with evidence-based patient safety standards and norms (for example for 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 health care to reduce the number of patients using hospitals.

Declare quality and safety of health services a critical issue for Pakistan

Some very important steps have already been taken, for example establishing the provincial healthcare commissions, statement said.

Discussion between the Federal Ministry and the delegation has identified a list of priority actions.

This includes completion of a comprehensive review of quality and safety 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 each of the provinces.

 The statement added that to oversee all these efforts, a national steering committee for quality and safety will be created, supported by a network of focal points to support health facilities.  WHO commits to continue working closely with the health ministry to extend the ongoing support to improve quality and safety, raise awareness among the public and health workers, and ensure coordination of the various related initiatives.

During the mission, a peer learning meeting was held where a representative from Oman shared experience of the Patient Safety Friendly Hospital Initiative with hospitals and health leaders from across Pakistan. Dr. Zafar, while speaking to the delegation, said that ministry is pleased to accept findings of the expert delegation and will work with WHO to implement the recommended actions and roadmap, “I would like to commend the commitment of Dr Zafar Mirza to improve the quality and safety of health services across Pakistan. 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, 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 Donna Forsyth, an international expert in Patient Safety.