The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency is celebrating both the first birthday and the success of the patient-reporting component of its Yellow Card Scheme.

First introduced in 1964 following the unforeseen side effects to unborn children from the anti-sickness pill thalidomide, Yellow Card reports are used to flag previously unknown drug adverse events so that they can be further investigated by the Agency.

According to the MHRA, it usually gets around 22,000 reports of suspected side effects every year, and these have helped to highlight some significant safety issues, such as the risk of seizures from taking GlaxoSmithKline’s smoking-cessation drug Zyban (bupropion) and adverse psychiatric reactions from sanofi-aventis’ now withdrawn obesity pill Acomplia (rimonabant).

Last year, the Agency introduced patient reporting to the Yellow Card Scheme, providing an online form for those with any concerns and running a campaign six-week campaign to encourage pharmacists raise awareness of the Scheme with their customers.

And it seems this new component is proving to be a success, with reports from patients regarding drug side effects and other issues with their medication leaping 50% over the year, the MHRA says.

“We are grateful that the public is hearing our message that no medicine is risk-free and has taken an active role in reporting side effects to us,” commented MHRA Director of Vigilance and Risk Management of Medicines, Dr June Raine.

On a more general note, the increase in patient reporting also fits with the rising trend of patients taking a more active role in their healthcare. Furthermore, it indicates that public awareness of the MHRA’s role is growing; a survey by Ipsos MORI back in 2006 found that only 2% of respondents identified the Agency as the country’s drugs regulator.