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Patient drug information leaflets ‘should be shorter’

Information leaflets that accompany medication are too long, have complex language and alienate patients, the UK Government has told the European Commission.

The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency – on behalf of the UK government – is calling on the European Commission to make improvements to the way patient information leaflets are presented.

The European Commission is already planning new legislation in this area and has invited the views of Governments and interested groups.

In a letter to the commission on behalf of the UK government, MHRA chief executive Professor Sir Kent Woods said that patient information leaflets have long lists of side effects but do not balance this with information on possible benefits.

He also said patient information leaflets are also not targeted to individual patients because some of the information does not apply to them.

Sir Kent said: ‘There is an increasing evidence base on how to effectively communicate information on the risks and benefits of medicines, but with a few exceptions the pharmaceutical industry has not kept pace with this in producing product information fit for the 21st century healthcare setting.’

He added: ‘A key enabling provision would include a requirement for the information to be available electronically in addition to the written document.

‘Patients who increasingly operate in the social media space are precluded from accessing information in a format to suit their preferred means of communication.’

But Dr Peter Fellows, a GP in Lydney, Gloucestershire, and GPC member for Avon and Gloucestershire, said the pharmaceutical companies have improved the language and layout of leaflets in recent years, partly due to BMA lobbying.

He said: ‘I find that many patients do read the leaflets. They also have access to the internet, and are better informed about medication. You can’t use Noddy language on leaflets because of the possibility of legal action if not enough detail is given.’