Opening Remarks by Deputy Minister of Health during the World

Patient Safety Awareness Day Webinar on Friday, 16 Sept 2022


Thank You Programme Director, Ms Khadija Jamaloodien

Organisers of this important webinar

Members of the panel

Experts and Academics

Members of the media

Ladies and gentlemen


Good morning

Although this day is about patient safety, but the World Health Organization (WHO) is calling on governments and health care leaders to address persistent threats to the health and safety of both health workers and patients.

This is because patient safety cannot be achieved without the safety of the health workers, just like those who say, political freedom without economic freedom is meaningless.  According to the WHO, Patient Safety is a health care discipline that emerged with the evolving complexity in health care systems and the resulting rise of patient harm in health care facilities.

It aims to prevent and reduce risks, errors and harm that occur to patients during provision of health care. It is estimated by the WHO in 2019 that, one in every 10 patients is harmed while receiving hospital care, and this can happen at any healthcare provider, private and public.

Patients safety risks such as medication errors are sometimes underreported by healthcare professionals due to fear of litigation, 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 due to medication and improve the rational use of medicines.

We can minimise incidents and drive improvements in safety and quality by ensuring that patients are treated in a safe environment and protected from avoidable harm. It is our collective responsibility as the regulatory bodies like SAHPRA, pharmacists, manufacturers, health workers and employers to minimize the unintended harm on the patients. The employers have the responsibility to ensure a safer and conducive environment for provision of health service.

Although the patients suffer the most from the risks associated with unsafe practices and medication errors such as emotional stress and physical injuries, but the healthcare providers also suffer the integrity and financial loss through medico legal claims.

Some of the safety risks experienced by patients emanate from preventable medication errors due to incorrect storage, prescribing, dispensing and administration, which are amongst the leading causes of avoidable harm in health care across the world. These account to at least 50% of the total preventable harm in medical care.

It is thus, our duty as healthcare professionals to ensure patient safety and quality improvement by providing to the right patient in the right dose. This means we should at all times do our level best to avoid any negligent harm on our patients, while striving to achieve the best possible health care outcomes.

Although medication errors are sometimes under-reported by healthcare professionals due to fear of the spectre of litigation, systems have been put in place to ensure medication safety across South Africa and stakeholders across all sectors have taken up the challenge to prevent harm due to medication and improve the rational use of medicines. Our priority should not be to avoid spectre of litigation, but to put the health of the patients first.

This includes the programmatic pharmacovigilance performed by the National Pharmacovigilance Unit at the National Department of Health, adverse event reporting to the Pharmacovigilance Unit at the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority (SAHPRA) and other pharmacovigilance and patient safety processes implemented by the Provincial Departments of Health.

This is in line with the 2022 World Patient Safety Day which aims to focus attention on emphasising the need to adopt a systems approach and promote safe medication practices free from harm.

Patient safety is more essential as the country moves towards National Health Insurance, systems to ensure medication safety will become even more important to ensure that patients receive effective treatment appropriate to their clinical need. Medicine safety needs to be prioritised at all levels and in all settings of the healthcare system through the allocation of resources.

The assessment of the burden of medicine-related harm in South Africa is also needed, addressing this through safety plans and programmes codesigned with other stakeholders, and a national coordinator should be designated to oversee the implementation and monitoring thereof.

Observation of ongoing campaigns to promote and improve the safe medicine practices is needed, and information on medicine safety needs to be made available at a community level. A patient safety incident reporting and learning system should also be established, with the implementation of WHO guidelines and strategies.

I have no doubt that, this World Patient Safety Day Webinar will serve as festival of ideas amongst the scientists, academic and government officials to come up with strategies to improve the patient safety efforts in South Africa, with specific focus on strengthening interventions for medication safety, and panellists have been carefully selected to provide their insights into the progress and challenges faced in developing systems to ensure the safety of medication for patients.

I look forward to today’s discussion on how we can improve patient safety through the reduction of medication errors in South Africa.

Lastly, I had an honour of signing the WHO’s pledge to improve medication safety on behalf of the National Department of Health. I also encourage everyone involved in health service provision, especially in medication to sign an individual WHO pledge to take an active role in managing medicines.

I also urge healthcare workers to take the time to counsel and educate your patients on why they need to take their medicines, the correct administration of their medicines, and what they should do if they are in doubt or experience negative side effects, just like we always emphasise with COVID-19 adverse effects following immunisation.

I thank you.