Reporter 415, 23 February 1998

Vital drugs information unavailable to millions

There are nearly two million people in Britain with impaired vision and most of them are elderly – a group that is prescribed nearly half of all prescription drugs. From the end of this year, European law will insist that all medicines prescribed in the UK must come with a comprehensive manufacturer’s leaflet inside the pack, designed to give vital information to patients. But hundreds of thousands of people with impaired vision will not benefit from the move.

Dr D K Theo Raynor, head of the University’s Division of Academic Pharmacy Practice in the School of Healthcare Studies, has warned that blind and partially sighted people could lose out on what should be a new era of patient empowerment.

“Most visually impaired people are elderly, a group that is prescribed nearly half of all prescription drugs,” says Dr Raynor. “Most live alone and depend on friends, families or neighbours to read information for them.”

According to Dr Raynor, who has written on the issue for major medical journals including the British Medical Journal, providing accessible medical information to Britain’s 1.7 million visually impaired people need not be complicated or time-consuming. Recent advances in technology allow such information to be produced rapidly in a range of formats, including braille, large print, audiotape, and on computer disk. Free or cheap rate helplines can also be useful for the three-quarters of blind and partially-sighted people who own telephones.

Now Dr Raynor has joined the Royal National Institute for the Blind in urging manufacturers to go beyond the EU directive and end the exclusion of blind people.

“Access to information about a medical condition or treatment is a basic human right that visually impaired people have traditionally been denied,” he says.

“The introduction of universal drug information leaflets heralds a new era for patient empowerment that should not be denied to any patient groups. Bank statements, telephone bills and even best-selling novels are now available in large print, braille or audiotape. It is now time for medical information to follow suit.”

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