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Moving medicine safety up the agenda


Joe Brogan, Head of Pharmacy and Medicines Management, Health and Social Care Board

By Joe Brogan, Head of Pharmacy and Medicines Management, Health and Social Care Board

Safety has always mattered with medication. Medicines are the most commonly used medical intervention in Northern Ireland, and at any one time 70% of the population is taking prescribed or over the counter medicines to treat or prevent ill health.

We are fortunate in Northern Ireland to benefit from effective systems for the safe prescribing, dispensing and administration of medicines but, despite this, our stats tell us that medication harm remains too high, and avoidable harm related to medicines occurs too often.

Every year in Northern Ireland there are 11.7 million medication errors. Thankfully, the vast majority of errors are detected early and significant patient harm is avoided but these avoidable errors cost the Health and Social Care system £1.9 million and consume 5,500 bed days.

We want medication safety to be a priority for everyone receiving and providing care within the health and social care service.

The World Health Organisation’s (WHO) Third Global Patient Safety Challenge ‘Medication without Harm’ gives us the opportunity to re-energise our approach ensuring the safe use of medicines in Northern Ireland. The target is to reduce severe, avoidable medication-related harm by a further 50% over the next five years

Our response is a new five-year plan titled ‘Transforming medication safety in Northern Ireland’ which has been developed collaboratively with healthcare professionals and service users from across Northern Ireland.

The commitments focus on improving the safe use of medicines in four key areas – health care professionals’ behaviour; systems and practices of medication; medicines; patients and the public.

As health professionals we will be relying on the public to support our efforts.

We’re encouraging everyone who takes regular medicines and those assisting them to:

Every year in Northern Ireland there are 2.4 million inpatient prescription items in secondary care with some 2000 inpatients experiencing an avoidable adverse event due to medications. Yet we know that all medication errors are potentially avoidable and can therefore be greatly reduced or even prevented by improving the systems and practices of medication, that includes: ordering, prescribing, preparing, dispensing, administration, monitoring and counselling.

Over the next five years we will be working very closely with patients, HSC staff and a range of key partners to ensure that safety remains the cornerstone of medication.