This year’s World Patient Safety Day came at a crucial time.

Healthcare systems across the world have been pushed to their brink, with a spotlight shone on the huge physical and psychological challenges facing healthcare workers during the COVID-19 pandemic, and how this impacts on patient safety.

The conferences and visits which took place on Thursday were on computer screens rather than conference halls, but the importance of patient safety remains unchanged.

I had the pleasure of taking a virtual trip to University Hospital Southampton to mark the day, and was moved by the lengths the leadership team have taken to safeguard their staff from the many mental challenges that COVID-19 has brought.

In my role as Minister for Patient Safety I have seen first-hand the dedication and care demonstrated by so many of my colleagues in the NHS.

We have a moral duty to look after them - after all, they have chosen to dedicate their lives to looking after the most vulnerable.

We must shield our healthcare workers from psychological challenges or burnout - and unacceptable issues such as violence from patients or discrimination and inequality.

Not only because it is the right thing to do and a basic right of staff not to feel threatened at work, but because stressful work environments can make errors more likely and can cause harm to patients.

Our people are our greatest asset and so we must listen to our colleagues’ concerns, and invest in their recruitment, training and care to give them the best possible working environment.

Just this week, we announced an extra £8.7 million to help NHS Trusts move to paperless digital prescribing, which will save staff valuable time and can reduce prescribing errors by up to 30%, including £988,000 for Solent and £1,700,000 for Portsmouth Hospitals NHS Trusts.

The switch has already been rolled out across 130 Trusts, allowing even more health workers to access vital patient information and provide accurate medical prescribing.

From the start of this pandemic, we have also taken steps to boost our workforce where needed.

We are embedding patient safety throughout the NHS, and making sure regulators are listening to those who raise concerns and that they show empathy and sensitivity when they respond - whether it’s patients, their families or staff.

We have overhauled the infrastructure underpinning safety and quality in the past decade, taking steps to help staff speak up when they see things going wrong, which is crucial if the right lessons are to be learned and errors are to be minimised.

We must give frontline health workers the empowerment and platform to have honest conversations and open-minded debates with senior colleagues about what we need to do to safeguard both staff and patients. Patient safety is a path of continuous improvement, so let’s use this shared experience to drive forward this important work.

This will help develop a culture of patient safety where the patient is a partner, where a blame-free environment is encouraged and where health workers are trained to reduce both patient harm and the risk of harm, and where the latest research and technologies are used to keep patients safe.

Nadine Dorries

Minister for Mental Health, Suicide Prevention and Patient Safety