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Hospital enacts new incentives for safety

A draft federal bill by the Ministry of Health would criminalise negligence and mandate in-house investigation of patient deaths.

ABU DHABI // Tawam Hospital in Al Ain announced a new patient safety programme yesterday amid national concerns about medical errors. "With thousands of deaths each year around the world due to preventable medical errors, patient safety can no longer be pushed aside," said Steve Matarelli, the chief clinical officer at Tawam.

Posters have been put up around the hospital and text messages sent to remind staff of basic safety procedures such as washing hands, checking medication sell-by dates and watching out for errors. The hospital is to give out awards to departments that best comply with these safety measures. Among them is the hand hygiene award, to create an incentive for staff to wash their hands regularly. A hospital investigation found the most common reasons for non-compliance were that staff simply forgot, did not realise the need because their hands did not look dirty, or that they did not have enough time.

The best catch award is for "near misses", where a staff member steps in to prevent someone else making a mistake. The hospital has identified 20 such incidents. Sheikh Khalifa Medical City in Abu Dhabi announced earlier this year that it was introducing procedures to reduce human error. Every patient will have their medical information reviewed by the registration clerk, the nurse and their doctor. In addition, the hospital is to publish a performance report.

"If there is human error, there is someone to recognise that," said Scott Strong, the hospital's chief executive. With the performance report, "the hope is that other healthcare organisations will follow suit and the public can know what to expect." At the end of last year the Federal National Committee reviewed a draft law designed to reduce medical errors. It was submitted by the Ministry of Health, which manages hospitals and clinics in the Northern Emirates, and would allow for criminal sanctions to be brought against doctors for medical negligence. In addition it calls for the setting up of a committee in each hospital to investigate any death that occurs there.

Some FNC members were highly critical of the level of preventable deaths in the health system. "I feel the ministry does not even achieve its own aims to prevent unnecessary deaths," said Salem al Naqbi, a member from Sharjah, at the FNC's December meeting. "If they follow good procedures this will definitely affect the unnecessary rate of death." An investigation is under way into the death of a seven-year-old girl who died after a routine tonsil operation at Kalba Hospital.

More than 200 nurses were dismissed from Al Mafraq Hospital in August after failing to pass competency tests designed to check their ability to follow procedures. "I've been trying to teach them the basics, like wash your hands," Gail Smith, the chief nursing officer, told The National last summer. The dismissals were controversial. The sacked nurses are having their cases heard by the Court of Appeals, with a decision expected by the end of the month. Indian and Philippine administrative bodies have ordered a freeze on applications to the hospital for jobs.

The draft law will apply to all emirates if enacted. There have been complaints, however, from doctors and senior health officials that it is unclear and contains gaps. The Health Authority - Abu Dhabi also intends to tighten its regulations to curb medical errors. "The health authority is revamping all health regulations, beginning with priority areas such as patient safety and reducing drug errors," said Dr Oliver Harrison, the director of the public health and policy division.

Any change in regulations would have to adhere to the federal law, if the legislation passes. amcmeans@thenational.ae

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