Hospital infections are riskier worldwide than flying, the author of a new World Health Organization report says.

The WHO appointed Professor Liam Donaldson, England's former chief medical officer, as the agency's envoy for patient safety. Donaldson's report — his first as the envoy — focused on the toll of health care-associated infection based on a review of literature from 1995 to 2010 worldwide.

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Sir Liam Donaldson said he wouldn't go into a hospital that wasn't using the surgical safety checklist because he wouldn't regard it as safe. (Luke MacGregor/Reuters)

"If you were admitted to hospital tomorrow in any country …  your chances of being subjected to an error in your care would  be something like 1 in 10. Your chances of dying due to an error in health care would be 1 in 300," Donaldson told a news briefing, Reuters reported.

This compared with a risk of dying in an air crash of about 1 in 10 million passengers, he said.

Of every 100 hospitalized patients at any given time, seven in developed and 10 in developing countries will acquire at least one health care-associated infection, according to the report.

Studies estimate that in Canada, the prevalence of such infections was estimated at 11.6 per cent in 2002, compared with 4.5 per cent in the U.S.

The risk of acquiring infections is significantly higher in intensive care units, and is particularly associated with the use of devices such as urinary catheters and ventilators, the report said.

The impact of the infections implies longer hospital stays, higher chances of long-term disability, increased antibiotic resistance, a massive financial burden for health system, high costs for patients and their families, and excess deaths.

Evidence suggests that health care-associated infection can be prevented and the burden by as much as 50 per cent or more.

For example, Donaldson advocates the use of the WHO's surgical safety checklist, which it said has been shown to reduce surgery complications.

"Frankly, if I was having an operation tomorrow I wouldn't go into a hospital that wasn't using the checklist because I wouldn't regard it as safe," said Donaldson.