Anaesthetists say new Surgical Safety Checklist will save lives

27 August, 2009

The Australian and New Zealand College of Anaesthetists welcomes the introduction of the Surgical Safety Checklist, an important clinical tool for Australian hospitals launched recently by the Federal Health Minister, the Hon. Nicola Roxon.

The checklist, which has been shown to reduce deaths and complications in surgical patients, is based on the World Health Organisation Surgical Safety Checklist.

A global study involving almost 8000 patients at eight sites around the world found that death rates for surgical patients was 1.5% before the checklist was introduced and fell to 0.8% after its introduction, while inpatient complications fell from 11% of cases before to 7% after. The results of the study were published earlier this year in The New England Journal of Medicine.

ANZCA took part in the collaborative process of refining the checklist, which emphasises teamwork and communication, for use in Australia and New Zealand. The checklist will be launched in New Zealand next week.

The chairman of ANZCA’s Quality and Safety Committee, Professor Alan Merry, said the checks took place in three phases. The first, “sign in”, occurred before the induction of anaesthesia.

He said a number of important pre-anaesthetic checks had been established by organisations such as ANZCA for many years and the checklist consolidated, reinforced and formalised these processes.

Errors and omissions in the process of perioperative care need to be identified before patients are anaesthetised, not after,” Professor Merry said.

Professor Merry was the principal investigator for Auckland, one of the eight pilot sites in the WHO global study, so locally relevant data were contributed to the overall results. Auckland City Hospital was so impressed with the results of the study it adopted the checklist for ongoing use and other New Zealand hospitals are following suit.

“Anaesthesia and surgery are much safer today than they were even 20 years ago but avoidable mishaps still occur and occasionally these are serious,” Professor Merry said.

“The checklist is a very simple clinical tool that will have an enormous impact on how medical teams prevent these mishaps and their associated complications. More importantly, it will save lives.”

ANZCA president, Dr Leona Wilson, said the College strongly supported WHO’s “Safe Surgery Saves Lives” initiative.

ANZCA’s mission statement is ‘To serve the community by fostering safety and quality patient care in anaesthesia, intensive care and pain medicine’,” she said.

“The checklist is an important new tool in achieving this mission. ANZCA, with many other organisations, has endorsed the checklist for use in Australia and New Zealand, and will be actively promoting its uptake.”