Al Ain A senior safety officer in a hospital has warned against dangers of under-reporting medical errors by staff on fear of losing their jobs and livelihood.

Krishnan Sankaranarayanan, senior safety officer, quality assurance at the Al Ain-based Tawam Hospital, told XPRESS that medical errors continue to plague hospitals because the human element is involved at every stage of the healthcare process.

He said unless robust systems to report errors are put in place, there will always be a tendency by staff to brush them under the carpet for fear of repercussions.

He said a 1999 study in the US concluded that 98,000 people die every year in the US due to medical errors. “Fifteen years later, medical errors continue to occur.”

Need to speak up

While there are no such figures available for the UAE. Sankaranarayanan said communication hierarchies among healthcare providers and lack of a supportive environment to report errors can foster a culture where medical errors are not acknowledged. Nurses are usually timid and are unable to speak up.

In addition, UAE hospitals employ staff from different countries, making cross-cultural communication a strong variable in patient safety efforts.

He said: “No one goes out there to wilfully commit a mistake, but somewhere along the line, errors can happen because of the human factor which has many components like the caregiver’s level of competence, skill, environmental circumstances, fatigue, distractions, etc. It is imperative to build a culture of safety and a system where every healthcare worker will do the right thing even when no one is watching.”

He said Tawam Hospital under Abu Dhabi Health Services Company pioneered a comprehensive unit-based safety programme (CUSP) in 2008 with 12 actively functioning units under the safety programme. “As hospitals, we need to create environments where people freely report incidents. The key is to have a non-punitive approach and move from a no blame culture to a fair and just culture that factors accountability.”