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One in five cannot read small print on medicine labels

One in five people in the United Kingdom cannot read medicine labels because the print is too small, according to the Royal National Institute for the Blind (RNIB).

Research carried out by the RNIB, in which over 1,000 people with sight problems and an additional sample of 2,000 visually healthy adults, were interviewed about their ability to read information, shows that among people with sight problems that cannot be corrected by glasses, 73 per cent have difficulty reading medicine labels or cannot read them at all.

Ian Bruce, director of the RNIB, says: “It is not only people with sight problems who face the potential danger and daily frustration of taking the wrong dose of medicine. A surprisingly large proportion of the general population, particularly older people, also struggle because they cannot read small print.”

Patient information leaflets and medicine labels and instructions should be available to each patient in their preferred format, such as large print, Braille or on tape, the RNIB says. It points out that the Co-op has Braille labelling available on its over-the-counter medicines. In many cases, using larger, clearer print and providing information in a friendly manner (either by telephone or face to face) can help.

Roger Odd, the Royal Pharmaceutical Society’s head of professional and scientific support, told The Journal on September 12: “Pharmacists have a responsibility to make sure that patients who are not able to read labels have some mechanism in place to make sure that they can take their medicines properly.” This could take the form of large lettering on the medicine to identify it, eg, “heart tablets”, or ensure that carers are informed about how the medicines should be used. Pharmacists have to ensure that patients know which medicine is which (if the patient takes more than one) and understand the directions for use, he said.

Mr Odd added that the profession needs to urge the public to tell the pharmacist if they need help or support in reading labels when obtaining medicines, because it is not always apparent that a person does not have good sight.

The RNIB says that the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 requires that people providing a service must ensure that it is accessible by providing information about the service in alternative formats. In addition, the Human Rights Act 1998, which protects a person’s right to privacy, could have implications if a person has to rely on someone to read information for them.

Practical guidance to help businesses produce information in ways that will reach people with sight problems is available from the RNIB in its “See it right” pack (tel 0845 766 9999,


Citation: The Pharmaceutical Journal URI: 20004993

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