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Patient safety

Scottish government to appoint patient safety commissioner in wake of Cumberlege report

The introduction of a patient safety commissioner will “provide a means of holding the current system to account on behalf of patients for delivering improvements in patient safety”.


Source: ChameleonsEye /

The report ‘First do no harm’ looked at the experiences of women who had been given valproate, which can cause birth defects in babies exposed to the drug during pregnancy

The Scottish government has announced plans to appoint a patient safety commissioner to represent patients who have experienced harm from health service treatments.

The move follows the publication of ‘First do no harm’ in July 2020, which revealed that half of pharmacists are not discussing the risks of valproate with patients.

The report, which was led by Baroness Cumberlege, looked at the experiences of women who had been given valproate, Primodos (norethisterone/ethinylestradiol; Schering) or pelvic mesh, and recommended the appointment of an independent patient safety commissioner who would “provide a means of holding the current system to account on behalf of patients for delivering necessary improvements in patient safety”.

A spokesperson for the Scottish government confirmed to The Pharmaceutical Journal, on 4 September 2020, that the post would be created in Scotland — but could not yet say when the role would be filled.

“What the patient safety commissioner’s role looks like, where it will sit, and how it will function will need to take cognisance of the Scottish context, so will require further work, including consultation with patients,” the spokesperson said.

“It is important that we listen to the views of patients and members of the public in determining what they want from a patient safety commissioner, and what that role should look like.

“There are already a number of policies in place in Scotland which promote the input of patients and the public to decisions about their care. The patient safety commissioner role must add value to these existing policies, and not replicate what already exists.”

The spokesperson added that “the emphasis of this new role is on the patient voice within the safety system.”

Although the report was England-focused, Scotland is the first nation to confirm that it will create a patient safety commissioner role. 

Speaking in the House of Lords on 2 September 2020, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath said ministers had been “silent” on whether they would accept many of the report’s recommendations, in particular the appointment of a patient safety commissioner in England. In the same discussion, Baroness Cumberlege herself said she would “put down an amendment” to appoint such a role. 

The Cumberlege report examined how the healthcare system in England responds to reports about harmful side effects from medicines and medical devices, although it took evidence from across the UK.

Citation: The Pharmaceutical Journal DOI: 10.1211/PJ.2020.20208333

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