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National Patient Safety Agency

UK Surgical Organisations sign up to World Health Organisation Challenge: Safe Surgery Saves Lives

28 February 2008


At an event hosted by the National Patient Safety Agency (NPSA) the Royal Colleges and other national organisations and associations today endorsed in principle the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) Second Global Patient Safety Challenge; Safe Surgery Saves Lives, due to be formally launched in Washington in June this year.


The NPSA received over 128,000 reports of patient safety incidents from surgical specialties from October 2006 to September 2007. The nature of these incidents are hugely varied from wrong site surgery, to misplaced patient notes. Not all of these incidents are serious but some have led to patient harm or death.


The initiative, lead by the WHO World Alliance for Patient Safety, chaired by Sir Liam Donaldson, aims to introduce a Surgical Safety Checklist to ensure the entire surgical team has a common understanding of the procedure and risk and a thorough knowledge of the patient. The second part of the challenge relates to thorough recording of information about surgery volumes, outcomes and safety incidents to ensure proper monitoring.


Dr Atul Gawande, leading the challenge for WHO said: "Patients in the UK undergo more than 8 million surgical procedures per year – that’s more than 1 operation for every eight people. Surgical care – for trauma, cancer, joint disease – has become an essential component of living a long and healthy life. But surgery is risky and safety practices are inconsistent.


"This extraordinary coalition of United Kingdom's leading organisations for surgeons, anaesthesia professionals and nurses has endorsed a seemingly mundane but revolutionary idea: that a simple operating room checklist could save lives in surgery the same way that pilots’ checklists have saved lives in aviation for the last half century. The UK is the first country to have embraced this concept so broadly. By doing so, it has established itself as the worldwide leader in the perfection of surgical care.”


Professor Lord Ara Darzi, Minister of Health and lead for the UK pilot said: “Patient Safety is one of my top priorities. The pilot, taking place at St. Mary’s Hospital, part of the newly formed Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust, will show how a simple check list technique can improve the understanding and knowledge of the whole surgical team aiming to make operations safer”


Sir Liam Donaldson, Chief Medical Officer for England, said: “Simple measures can save lives. The WHO Surgical Safety Checklist turns life saving knowledge into a practical tool which can be used in every operating theatre in the world. As a result, we can ensure that patients will undergo the right operation at the correct body site, with safe anaesthesia, established infection prevention measures and effective teamwork. With an estimated 230 million major operations performed around the world every year, the stakes could not be higher.”


Lord Patel Chairman of the NPSA said: “I am delighted that surgical professional associations are taking a leading on driving forward the Safe Surgery Saves Lives work in the UK. The NPSA will provide all the support it can to assist Royal Colleges and other associations in making surgery safer for UK patients.”



Notes to editor


  • For further information contact Sarah Hayward or Nick Rigg on 020 7927 9357 or 020 7927 9362.

  • UK surgical organisations that have endorsed the initiative are as follows:

    • Association for Perioperative Practice

    • Association of Anaesthetists of Great Britain and Ireland

    • British Orthopaedic Association

    • College of Operating Department Practitioners; International

    • Federation of Gynaecology and Obstetrics

    • The Royal College of Anaesthetists

    • Royal College of Nursing

    • Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists

    • Royal College of Surgeons England

    • Royal College of Surgeons Glasgow

    • Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh

    • British Anaesthetic and Recovery Nurses. 

  • The Safe Surgery Saves Lives initiative is being piloted at 8 sites internationally including St Mary’s Hospital London, part of Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust.

  • The NPSA is working with surgical organisations to enable them to drive this Safe Surgery agenda.

  • The National Patient Safety Agency encompasses the National Research Ethics Service, Patient Safety Division and the National Clinical Assessment Service. Our vision is to lead and contribute to improved, safe patient care by informing, supporting and influencing healthcare individuals and organisations. Each division works within its sphere of expertise to improve patient outcomes.