HIQA's recommendations are well written and researched, modelled on similar identification numbers in countries such as Finland, Denmark and the UK. Nonetheless its success in improving patient safety will depend on the input of medical and social workers, who will still need to maintain records, and to make best use of an individual's past records when treating them. It is understood that HIQA's unique health identifier has good prospects of being implemented. It is due to be considered for inclusion in the forthcoming Health Information Bill, to be enacted early in 2010. The wider public also show support - a Red C poll indicated that 86 per cent thought health information should be linked up across healthcare settings, and that over 75 per cent were comfortable with the use of their information.2

A straightforward measure which could drastically improve patient safety is the introduction of a standardised identification system for patients. At present there is no way to track patients and maintain their records in a systematic way, posing a risk to patients' safety. A litany of potential errors can result from failure to correctly identify patients: medication errors and transfusion errors, to name a few. To address the situation, HIQA has recently published a proposal for a unique health identifying number for each person.1 The number, which is assigned to a person for life, would support a complete electronic health record for everyone in the State. This would include records for hospital and GP treatment and also treatment in the social care sector. Not only would the system aid good clinical practice but also help prevent adverse events.