Navigation path

Left navigation

Additional tools

European Commission

Press release

Brussels, 19 June 2014

Patient safety: progress made, more needed

A patient safety package published today by the European Commission highlights how the Commission and EU countries are addressing the challenge of patient safety, progress made since 2012 and barriers to overcome to improve patient safety as foreseen in a Council Recommendation of 2009. While significant progress was made in terms of shaping national programmes for patient safety and putting in place systems for patients to report adverse effects, there is a still a long way to go in terms of implementing provisions on patient empowerment and in particular on education and training of healthcare workers. The documents published today will feed into the reflection process currently underway on future EU-level action on patient safety and quality of care.

Tonio Borg, European Commissioner for Health, said: "When our citizens go to a hospital, they expect safe healthcare. The good news is that most Member States now have patient safety programmes in place. The bad news is that, despite such progress, there are still adverse events in healthcare settings and patient safety is seldom part of healthcare workers training. We therefore need to pursue efforts to ensure greater safety for our citizens in healthcare settings".

The Package consists of three documents:

1 The Report on the Implementation of the 2009 Council Recommendation on Patient Safety

In 2009 a Council Recommendation on patient safety and healthcare associated infections put forward an overarching strategy at EU level with four areas for action: 1) policies and programmes on patient safety, 2) empowering patients, 3) reporting adverse events, and learning from errors, and 4) education and training of healthcare workers.

Following the 2012 report on the implementation of the Recommendation, which demonstrated progress by Member States and identified areas requiring further efforts, today’s report points to further progress over the last two years, notably in the following areas:

  1. Development of policies and programmes on patient safety: 26 countries developed or are finalising patient safety strategies or programmes. Patient safety standards are now mandatory in 20 countries (11 in 2012), and 19 countries use patient safety guidelines.

  2. Reporting and learning systems on adverse events: these now exist in 27 countries (15 in 2012), mostly at national level (21) and healthcare provider level (13). Patients are now more likely to report that they were harmed while receiving healthcare – 46% reporting adverse events in 2013 while only 28% in 2009.

  3. Patient empowerment: 18 countries inform patients about patient safety standards, safety measures to reduce or prevent errors, the rights to informed consent to treatment, complaint procedures and available redress (only five in 2012)

When it comes to the impact of the Recommendation, 21 out of the 28 reporting countries said that it increased awareness at political level, 20 said that it increased awareness in healthcare settings and 16 said that it triggered concrete action.

However, the report concludes that there is a need for continuous efforts at EU level to increase patient safety and quality of care, and proposes a list of actions including developing guidelines on information to patients, on patient safety standard and a common definition of quality of care.

As regards preventing healthcare associated infections, the report concluded that greater efforts are needed in particular to ensure specialised infection control staff in healthcare settings and isolation capacity for infected patients.

2 The Eurobarometer survey on patient safety and quality of care, conducted between November and December 2013 in all 28 EU countries, shows that:

  1. Just over half (53%) of EU citizens think it is likely patients could be harmed by hospital care in their county. However, this percentage varies widely between countries - from 82% in Cyprus to 21% in Austria.

  2. As in 2009 – the last time such a survey was conducted, just over one quarter (27%) said that they or a family member have experienced an adverse event while receiving healthcare. Those living in northern and western areas of the EU were more likely to say this.

  3. Of those who experienced an adverse event 46% reported it, as compared with only 28% in 2009, pointing to a marked increase in patient empowerment. The rise was even more significant in specific countries, e.g. France (+61%), Spain (+40%) and Luxembourg (+32%).

  4. Despite this, in 37% of the cases that the adverse event was reported ‘nothing happened’. However, one in five received an apology from the doctor or nurse, while 17% were given an explanation for the error by the healthcare facility.

3 The Results of the Public Consultation that ran between December 2013 and February 2014 shows that civil society (over 90%) still see patient safety as an issue in the EU. The results showed overwhelming support for all areas of improvement identified by the Commission. According to the respondents, the most effective measures are involving health professionals, binding national laws, involvement of patient organisations and EU cooperation on patient safety. Moreover, the majority of contributors (72%) consider that enlarging the scope of EU action from patient safety to wider quality of care would bring considerable benefits. Patient safety is seen as result of high quality of care which needs to be safe, effective and respectful of patients’ needs and dignity.


It is estimated that 8-12% of patients admitted to hospital in the EU suffer from adverse events whilst receiving healthcare, such as: healthcare-associated infections (approximately 25% of adverse events), medication-related errors, surgical errors, medical device failures, errors in diagnosis and failure to act on the results of tests. An estimated 4.1 million patients per year in the EU acquire a health-care associated infection, and at least 37 000 die as a result.

All documents, and more information on patient safety in the EU, can be found here:

Commissioner Borg's website:

Follow us on Twitter: @EU_Health

Contacts :

Fréderic Vincent (+32 2 298 71 66)

Aikaterini Apostola (+32 2 298 76 24)

Side Bar