Tamsin Constable

Pharmacists to use Plain English

What a fantastic week it is for supporters of Plain English.

First it was the coroner’s rant yesterday. Today, it’s the news that the instructions in medicines will from now on be written so that people actually understand them.

Researchers at the University of Leeds (including, by charming coincidence, my fellow local club runner and friend Dr Pete Knapp), ran tests to see how people interpret some of the instructions.

Take the phrase ‘avoid alcoholic drinks’ for example.

Never mind how clear the pharmacists think this is: it’s the patients that have to swallow the stuff.

‘The word ‘avoid’ can cause confusion,’ said Professor Theo Raynor. ‘Some people think it only means they should limit their alcohol intake. This phrase will now be replaced by the instruction: ‘Do not drink alcohol while taking this medicine’, which is far clearer.’

It’s hugely important – if patients don’t get the message, loud and clear, their health could be at risk.

I’m delighted with all this, of course. But I’d be even more delighted if Leeds Uni had sent out a tidier press release, as this one was clogged up with long, wriggly, passive sentences: it could have been a bit more Plain English itself.

Have a word, Pete!

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