Health leaders are urging community pharmacists to make greater use of the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA)'s Yellow Card Scheme for reporting adverse drug reactions (ADRs).

Community pharmacists were first given authority to report ADRs in the late 1990s, but recent reporting numbers have been "low and static," according to Dr June Raine, director of vigilance and risk management of medicines at the MHRA.

However, she adds that, since the New Medicines Service (NMS) was launched on October 1, 2011, more than 700 Yellow Card reports had been submitted by community pharmacists, bringing to the total number of pharmacy reports to almost 5,700.

"The information collected from the Yellow Card Scheme has contributed to the Agency's advice on issues this year such as levothyroxine tablets and potential lack of efficacy, and blue dyes used in lymph node imaging and the risk of serious allergic reactions," said Dr Raine. 

She added that the Yellow Card Scheme is "vital as a foundation for the MHRA's work in drug safety monitoring, and community pharmacists have an important role to play."

Felicity Cox, lead negotiator of the NHS Employers community pharmacy scheme, also welcomed the increase in numbers of Yellow Card reports submitted by community pharmacists since the introduction of the NMS, and said that the Scheme had enhanced their ability to improve patient safety.

"This is a positive signal that the New Medicines Service is allowing pharmacists to actively support their patients who are experiencing some problem with their new medicines, and it shows us that the Service is delivering its objective to support improved pharmacovigilance," she said.

Alasdair Buxton, head of NHS Services at the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee (PSNC), said he hoped the increase in Yellow Card reports would inspire more pharmacists providing the NMS to submit more such reports when they uncover suspected ADRs during discussions with patients.

"The recently-introduced medicines use review dataset also contains a prompt to report ADRs to the MHRA - hopefully we will see additional Yellow Card reports resulting from this," he added.

- The Yellow Card Scheme began back in1964 and is run jointly by the MHRA and the Commission on Human Medicines. Data suggest that ADR reports submitted by community pharmacists account for no more than 3%-4% of total direct reporting by healthcare professionals, even though it is estimated that as many as 40% of patients in the community experience ADRs.