Tuesday will see the 60th year since the breaking of the four minute mile by Roger Bannister, but today has an equally important milestone. The UK’s Yellow Card scheme for the collection of spontaneous reports of suspected harm from medicines was started 50 years ago today.
The scheme was started after the failure to detect serious birth defects associated with the drug thalidomide (my post on the 50th anniversary since thalidomide was launched is here). Since then the scheme has been an extremely useful tool to help detect signals (a brief discussion of what a signal is here) of drug harm. During the past 50 years, there have been ups and downs, including notable problems such as practolol and benoxaprofen, but the scheme has undoubtedly led to safer drugs in the UK. It, and the pharmacovigilance expertise of the UK, has been influential worldwide, particulary in the European Union. Even in the first year of its operation, the scheme was able to issue a warning of drug safety.
Derrick Dunlop’s name is on the letter, but the man whose name is most associated with the formation of the scheme is Dr BIll Inman. Inman contracted polio at the age of 21, undertaking his medical training in a wheelchair (more on him here). In the early years of the Yellow Card scheme, Bill Inman manually examined hundreds of Yellow Cards, sorting and piling differing reports by hand, to prove that the risk of thrombosis associated with early oral contraceptives could be reduced by lowering the dose.
That’s fifty years of doctors (and now all professionals and patients) reporting to the Yellow Card scheme as a simple act of altrusim – there is no payment. Every card is of help to future users of medicines, by helping regulatory agencies keep their eye on emergent drug safety issues.
If you want to celebrate the Yellow Card scheme’s fiftieth birthday, honour it, and the memory of Dr Bill Inman, not by sending a card, but by sending a Yellow Card next time you suspect a medicine has harmed either yourself or a patient.