New plan to transform medication safety launched

Date published: 17 September 2020

Health Minister Robin Swann is urging the public to “Know, Check and Ask” about their medicines as he launches a new medicines safety plan for Northern Ireland.

Speaking about the launch of ‘Transforming Medication Safety in Northern Ireland’ on this year’s World Patient Safety Day, Minister Swann said: “In Northern Ireland, we are fortunate to benefit from effective systems for the safe prescribing, dispensing and administration of medicines that have developed over many years and which generally work well. Despite this, our statistics tell us that our burden of medication harm remains too high, and avoidable harm related to medicines occurs too often.”

Produced collaboratively with healthcare professionals and service users from across Northern Ireland, the new five-year plan is a response to the World Health Organisation’s Third Global Patient Safety Challenge ‘Medication without Harm’.

Medicines are the most commonly used medical intervention in Northern Ireland and at any one time 70% of the population take prescribed or over the counter medicines to treat or prevent ill health. While the systems in place within the Health Service ensure that the vast majority of medicines in primary and secondary care annually are prescribed, dispensed and administered safely, errors can still occur and it is estimated that 800 non-elective hospital admissions in Northern Ireland every year are due to avoidable medication related adverse events, consuming 5,500 bed days at a cost to the HSC of £1.9million.

Cathy Harrison, Chief Pharmaceutical Officer at the Department of Health, stated: “Our plan sets out what the Health Service in Northern Ireland will commit to do over the next five years to improve safe practices with medicines and embed a medication safety culture within our population. These commitments have been informed and shaped by those who receive and deliver safe and effective care across Northern Ireland, and I would like to thank everyone who contributed to their development.”

Joe Brogan, Head of Pharmacy and Medicines Management for the Health and Social Care Board (HSCB), said: “The commitments in ‘Transforming Medication Safety in Northern Ireland’ are ambitious and are intended to support the delivery of specific programmes of action for improving the safe use of medicines in four key areas in which medications can cause inadvertent harm: health care professionals’ behaviour; systems and practices of medication; medicines; patients and the public.”

Minister Swann added: “Sooner or later everyone needs medication and often people can be on a number of medicines for different health conditions. Keeping track of all of these medications can be confusing as there can be a lot of details to remember. We’re encouraging everyone who takes regular medicines and those assisting them to:

  • Know your medicines and keep a list, bringing it to appointments and if admitted to hospital
  • Check that you are using the right medicine the right way
  • Ask your healthcare professional if you’re unsure

“Knowing more about the medicines you take will help you keep yourself well this winter and will also help the health service at this challenging time. If you’re unsure you should speak to a health professional, such as your doctor or local pharmacist.”

Minister Swann concluded: “Given our solid foundations, achieving the WHO target of reducing severe, avoidable medication-related harm by a further 50% over the next five years will be challenging. To meet this challenge we will need strong collective leadership, increased public engagement, and new approaches to delivering transformational change. Finally, I appeal to healthcare professionals and the people of Northern Ireland to join us on this journey.”

Notes to editors: 

  1. The Transforming Medication Safety in Northern Ireland plan is published on the Department of Health website
  2. For media enquiries please contact DoH Press Office by email:
  3. Follow us on twitter @healtdpt
  4. The Executive Information Service operates an out of hours service for media enquiries between 1800hrs and 0800hrs Monday to Friday and at weekends and public holidays. The duty press officer can be contacted on 028 9037 8110.

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