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Medication Without Harm - WHO Challenge

What is the Issue?

At some point in our lives, we will all take medicines to prevent or treat illness. Medicine has altered our ability to live with disease and generally increased the duration of our lives. However, medicines do sometimes cause serious harm if taken incorrectly, not monitored properly or as the result of an error, accident or communication problem.

Unsafe medication use is a leading cause of harm, most of it preventable, in healthcare systems around the world. The World Health Organisation (WHO) has initiated the third Global Patient Safety Challenge on Medication Safety to focus on improving medication safety by strengthening the systems for reducing medication errors and avoidable medication-related harm.

What is the Challenge?

The goal of the WHO Challenge is to reduce severe, avoidable harm related to medicines by 50% globally.

Everyone, including patients and health care professionals, has a role to play in ensuring medication safety.

Medication safety issues can impact health outcomes, length of stay in a hospital, readmission rates, and overall costs to Ireland's healthcare system. Globally, the cost associated with medication errors has been estimated at over €35 billion.

The three priority action areas are:

  • To improve medication safety at transitions of care (for example being admitted or discharged from hospital).
  • To reduce the risk in high-risk situations (for example certain patient groups or certain medicines).
  • To reduce the level of inappropriate polypharmacy (when a person uses a number of medicines on a regular basis including some unnecessary medicines or medicines without a known reason).

To meet the challenge, the WHO has identified four domains of work:

  1. Patients and the public
  2. Healthcare Professionals
  3. Medicines
  4. Systems and practices of medication

As in previous WHO campaigns, such as Clean Care is Safer Care, which focused on hand hygiene, there is a public awareness component to the programme. This is the current focus of our work and we are running a national medication safety campaign Know, Check, Ask to engage with people who use medicines and healthcare workers.

The aim of the campaign is to encourage those taking medication and their caregivers, to take an active role in managing their medication, including keep an up-to-date list of their medicines.

Click on the following links for more information:

More information, reports, patient stories and campaign materials including posters and a video are available from: