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Patient safety is not elective: a debate at the NPSF Patient Safety Congress


The opening keynote session of the 16th Annual National Patient Safety Foundation Patient Safety Congress, held 14–16 May 2014, featured a debate addressing the merits and challenges of accountability with respect to key issues in patient safety. The specific resolution debated was: Certain safety practices should be inviolable, and transgressions should result in penalties, potentially including fines, suspensions, and firing. The themes discussed in the debate are issues that healthcare professionals and leaders commonly struggle with in their day-to-day work. How do we draw a line between systems problems and personal failings? When should clinicians and staff be penalised for failing to follow a known safety protocol? The majority of those who listened to the live debate agreed that it is time to begin holding health professionals accountable when they wilfully or repeatedly violate policies or protocols put in place by their institutions to protect the safety of patients. This article summarises the debate as well as the questions and discussion generated by each side. A video of the original debate can be found at

  • Patient safety
  • Leadership
  • Safety culture
  • Attitudes
  • Compliance

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