Health is at the core of all citizens' concerns, and when it comes to receiving healthcare, patients have a fundamental expectation that their hospital treatment will be safe. However, 8-12 per cent of patients admitted to hospital in the EU suffer from adverse events, and 37,000 of them will die each year from healthcare-associated infections (HAIs), the most common type of adverse event. These infections cost European economies €5.4bn per year. Given that many HAIs are preventable, the commission anticipates that infection prevention and control measures should save public health costs. Therefore, action needs to be taken.
While we have a good understanding of patient safety and HAIs, the importance of addressing them remains under-recognised in healthcare settings. In recent years, member states have made good progress in adopting patient safety and HAI measures, but the economic crisis has slowed this process and the issue is now lower on government agendas. This is regrettable, as HAIs and patient safety measures can offer real benefits both to economies and to patients.
"8-12 per cent of patients admitted to hospital in the EU suffer from adverse events, and 37,000 of them will die each year from healthcare-associated infections (HAIs), the most common type of adverse event"
In light of the 2011 directive on patients' rights in cross-border healthcare, the issue of healthcare quality and patient safety has become a priority at EU level. Last year, parliament adopted a resolution which called for increased EU and member state action on patient safety and HAIs, including clostridium difficile infection (CDI). CDI is among the top 10 HAIs in European hospitals, according to the European centre for disease prevention and control (ECDC). It most commonly results from the use of antibiotics that disrupt the normal bacteria in the bowel and allow C. difficile to flourish. Groups at particular risk of CDI include patients who are elderly, hospitalised or residents in long-term care facilities. The symptoms of CDI range from diarrhoea to severe, life-threatening complications. Like other HAIs, it can seriously jeopardise the course of a primary treatment, extend the length of hospital stay, and in some cases it can be fatal.
CDI illustrates, in many ways, the shortcomings in existing efforts to address HAIs. It reflects weaknesses in infection prevention control measures such as antibiotic stewardship, hand washing, environmental decontamination, training and staffing. It also underscores the need to look beyond hospital settings, tackling infections in long-term care facilities and paying particular attention to vulnerable people such as the elderly and chronically ill. Solutions and best practices in infection control and prevention exist. Therefore, these must be shared and enshrined in national public health strategies as a matter of urgency.
On 2 December, I hosted an event in the European parliament, organised by CDI Europe and HOPE, and supported by Astellas Pharma EMEA. We discussed the need for concerted action from the EU and members states on HAIs, and presented recommendations for improving CDI prevention and control to ensure the highest standards of patient safety and quality of care.