Patient safety


    The global landscape of health care is changing with health systems operating in increasingly complex environments. While new treatments, technologies and care models can have therapeutic potential, they can also pose new threats to safe care. Patient safety is a fundamental principle of health care and is now being recognized as a large and growing global public health challenge. Global efforts to reduce the burden of patient harm have not achieved substantial change over the past 15 years, despite pioneering work in some health care settings.

    Patient safety is a framework of organized activities that creates cultures, processes, procedures, behaviours, technologies and environments in health care that consistently and sustainably lower risks, reduce the occurrence of avoidable harm, make error less likely and reduce its impact when it does occur.

    Every point in the process of care-giving contains a certain degree of inherent unsafety.

    Clear policies, organizational leadership capacity, data to drive safety improvements, skilled health care professionals and effective involvement of patients and families in the care process, are all needed to ensure sustainable and significant improvements in the safety of health care.


    Patient safety in health care is an urgent and serious global public health concern. Patient harm exerts a very high burden on all health care systems across the world. Every year, an inadmissible number of patients suffer injuries or die because of unsafe and poor quality health care. Most of these injuries are avoidable. The burden of unsafe care broadly highlights the magnitude and scale of the problem. 

    • Patient harm due to adverse events is likely to be among the 10 leading causes of death and disability worldwide.
    • Most of these deaths and injuries are avoidable.
    • It is commonly reported that around 1 in 10 hospitalized patients experience harm, with at least 50% being preventable.  
    • Around two-thirds of all adverse events resulting from unsafe care, and the years lost to disability and death, occur in LMICs.

    It is estimated that the cost of harm associated with the loss of life or permanent disability, which results in lost capacity and productivity of the affected patients and families, amounts to trillions of US dollars every year. Furthermore, the psychological cost to the patient and their family (associated with the loss or disabling of a loved one), is certainly significant, though more difficult to measure.

    WHO response

    Recognizing the huge burden of patient harm in health care, the 72nd World Health Assembly, in May 2019, adopted a resolution (WHA72.6) on “Global action on patient safety”, which endorsed the establishment of World Patient Safety Day, to be observed every year on 17 September; and recognized “patient safety as a global health priority”. The resolution urges Member States to recognize patient safety as a key priority in health sector policies and programmes, and requests the Director-General of WHO to emphasize patient safety as a key strategic priority in WHO’s work, especially within the universal health coverage (UHC) agenda. 

    The resolution also requests WHO’s Director-General “to formulate a global patient safety action plan in consultation with Member States, regional economic integration organizations and all relevant stakeholders, including in the private sector”. This plan will be based on the guiding principles of equity, sustainability and accountability. The proposed action plan will seek inspiration and coherence with existing global action plans developed by WHO and other global health and development agencies. Responding to the unprecedented global patient safety movement, the need for very urgent and concerted action in this area, and aligning with the Sustainable Developmental Goals, WHO’s Director-General launched the WHO Flagship Initiative “A Decade of Patient Safety 2020-2030” in February 2020.


    All →

    Latest publications

    All →
    Global celebrations of world patient safety day, 17 September 2022

    World Patient Safety Day (WPSD) is an official World Health Organization (WHO) global public health day. It brings together patients, families, caregivers,...

    Implications of the COVID-19 pandemic for patient safety: a rapid review

    The pandemic has emphasized the high risk of avoidable harm to patients, health workers, and the general public, and has identified a range of safety gaps...

    Global report on infection prevention and control

    The WHO global report on infection prevention and control (IPC) provides a global situation analysis of how IPC programmes are being implemented in countries...

    Feature stories

    All →


    All →


    All →