Patients should cc the benefits of doctors' letters
Feb 12, 2007 - 6:36:56 AM

Patients should be kept informed of their condition and care said health minister Rosie Winterton today, as she called on healthcare professionals to make more effort to routinely copy letters to their patients.

Ms Winterton will be writing to healthcare professional bodies like the RCN, BMA, and General Practitioners Committee, urging them to encourage their members to copy patients into correspondence between clinicians so that patients are more informed about their condition and can make better decisions about their own healthcare. They will also be invited to take part in a round table discussion to agree a consensus on how to push this important issue forward.

In a recent Department of Health survey, nearly 7 out of 10 patients referred to a specialist in the last year said they had not received any copies of correspondence, with only a quarter saying that they had received copies of all letters.

Rosie Winterton says:

"Copying letters to patients is at the heart of creating a partnership between patients and their clinicians - it helps patients share in the decision making process about their care and make informed choices. One of the issues that patients frequently raise with me is that this is not happening nearly enough. Too few patients are routinely copied into their clinicians' letters and so are kept out of the loop on their care. The knock-on effect of this is that patients cannot participate fully in decisions about their care."

Joanne Rule, Chief Executive of Cancerbackup, says:

"Most patients want to see what is written about their condition and treatment - it's hopelessly old-fashioned to be excluded like this. Cancer patients say that access to letters helps them to share information about their treatment history and also to ask further questions. Access to letters would improve communication because no one should read news they haven't already been told and more attention would be paid to clear, jargon-free writing styles. I wholeheartedly support this Ministerial initiative."

The Minister of State for Health Services is writing to the Royal College of Nursing, Allied Health Professionals, BMA, General Practitioners Committee, NHS Confederation, as well as voluntary organisations, like Cancerbackup and the Long Term Medical Conditions Alliance, to draw their attention to the patient benefits of seeing letters written about them, and inviting them to meet to discuss ways of promoting and implementing the policy.

The NHS Plan (2000) established the right for patients to see correspondence relating to their care: "Letters between clinicians about individual patient's care will be copied to the patient as of right." DH issued guidance on copying letters to patients in 2003, with an expected implementation date of April 2004.

The PCT Patient Survey of 2005/06 (published January 2007) revealed that 68% of patients (who had been referred from their GP to a specialist in the previous 12 months) received no copies of correspondence between their GP and hospital. 7% received some letters, and 25% received them all.

Copying letters to patients helps:

- Establish more trust between patients and healthcare professionals
- Ensure patients are better informed so better able to make informed decisions about treatment options and to support self care and management
- Give patients written confirmation of what was said at consultations and what action is being taken, and
- Promote better compliance, as patients who understand their treatment are more likely to follow medical advice.

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