Friday 4 March 2011

Are We Becoming Less Literate?

Do you understand the meaning of 'drowsiness' or 'avoid'?  I'm sure you do but it appears research commissioned by the British National Formulary, which is used by doctors, nurses and pharmacists for information on drugs, suggests people are unsure what some instructions mean.

It found 'avoid alcoholic drink' could be open to misinterpretation and now recommends labels read 'do not drink alcohol while taking this medicine'.

Also the BNF found the word drowsiness is 'not always readily understood' and should now be improved to say 'this medicine makes you sleepy'.

The research was carried out by  professor Theo Raynor and his colleagues at the University of Leeds.

"However, the leaflet may get lost, which means that the label on the medicine plays a very important part in guiding people's behaviour.
"It is vital therefore that wordings on labels are simple and straightforward."

I've yet to have a word with my own chemist and by displaying my clairvoyant skills, which most of us can possess courtesy of Google, I predict our supposed lack of understanding of the basic English language is due to this and not due to the UK  having become an illiterate population.


Disenfranchised of Buckingham said...

Something like a quarter of Londoners were not born in the UK. Most of this quarter do not have English as a first language. And of course as far as most government depts, quangos and the BBC are concerned London is the UK.

It would be surprising if a good percentage of these non UK born residents aren't functionally illiterate.

WitteringsfromWitney said...

Nice spot SR - I think I shall have to post on this too, later.

Tis indeed a bitter pill to swallow!

English Pensioner said...

The more information that is provided, the less one is inclined to read it. The list of side-effects alone is enough to put me off from taking most medicines! Food labelling is very similar, its very difficult to find the information that you actually want among all the recommended daily allowances.

The last lot of pills that I had said they might cause drowsiness and that I should avoid alcohol. When taken in the evening and followed by my usual tot of your national drink they gave me a really good night's sleep!

Its not understanding that most people need, but common sense, a sadly missed quality these days.

Francis Urquhart said...

One should not mix up 'concern about literacy' with 'nothing better to do'


WitteringsfromWitney said...

On second thoughts SR, belay that forthcoming post idea.

Stinking cold, feeling drowsy and concentration levels not too high.

Suffice it to say, I do believe there is an element of illiteracy involved here, probably due to the low standard of our education system!

Joe Public said...

Surely the present system is a Darwinian mechanism to improve the gene pool.

Conan the Librarian™ said...

Shouldn't that be "less literate" Rosa?


Woodsy42 said...

Well spotted on this one SR!
Don't you just love the way academic research is carried out and coincidentally happens to support the EU directive. Almost all of science has become prostituted to political narative since grant bodies prioritised applications on their selected research topics.
On a lighter note my personal favourite pill pack in one that says 'Keep away from children'. Excellent advice! I manage to avoid them most days.

Apogee said...

Hi SR,Think our education system has a lot to do with this problem.
If you do not use words you will not understand their meaning, and usually this means speaking and reading the words.
While us pensioners over 40 may well have been taught meanings and usage it is very unlikely that those under 40 will have.
But the language,words used and the way they are used on instruction leaflets has to be as simple as possible so that the instructions are read and understood.
Any one who grew up in the 50's and 60's will remember the fractured English used by some manufacturers from the far east, a lot of people threw them away as unreadable and the habit continues with any instructions,including medical instructions.
Instructions must be written simply for simple people, otherwise they are useless,possibly dangerous.

subrosa said...

Quite possibly Buckingham. However, wouldn't it be better if we raised their English skills rather than reducing the common usage.

subrosa said...

Auch WfW, you'll do it so much better too. I was just so angry hearing this on TV.

subrosa said...

Now that is a jungle EP, food labelling. Also the size of the fonts make most unreadable without a magnifying glass.

subrosa said...

Indeed one should not Francis.

subrosa said...

Oh WfW, bed with a hot toddy. I said toddy. Hope you feel better tomorrow.

subrosa said...

Very possibly Joe.

subrosa said...

Now Conan, I swithered and dithered and dithered and swithered about the title. I will change it just for you.

subrosa said...

No I don't love it Woodsy but I accept it happens most of the times these days.

Lighter notes are always brighter notes aren't they. :)

subrosa said...

You make a good point there Apogee about handbooks etc being written in poor English. Yes, it's lowest common denominator everywhere these days.

john.boettcher said...

On-topic (but with other stuff regarding medics in general) -

I've had such experiences so often in the last few years I've literally banged my head off my table and swore silly!


subrosa said...

Thanks for the link John. I've put it on my reader as I've lots of time for people like Sue.

Don't let the medics wear you down. Remember they're now aware we have Google on our side. :)

john.boettcher said...

Cheers, Subrosa!

Sue's blog is very good. It's given me a lot of help emotionally and spiritually (not in a religious sense) as I know what it is like to suffer from her chronic illness.

One thing that strikes me - don't you think that the health "reforms" in England will lead to an exodus of folk to Scotland?

Some of the experiences she describes are shocking, and it's only going to get worse.

Still, an extra few hundred thousand from down south would help the SNP - most english folk I know would love to vote SNP if they had the chance!

Sorry for being off-topic.

Kind regards,

subrosa said...

Horrible illness Crohn's disease John. Since my c.difficile I still experience bouts of ulcerative colitis so I understand just a wee, wee bit about the level of pain which accompanies intestinal problems.

We've already had quite an influx from south of the border here John. In fact the over 60s population here is now over 50%. I can understand why because we still have doctors willing to do day visits and we have a small hospital which plays a large part in the community.

The problem is with us older folk, we don't bring jobs to anywhere, because we're usually on a fixed income and now, with the free care for the elderly, that's going to be very costly too. The influx of those from the south also pushes up house prices which makes many homes too expensive for locals.

It's a difficult one really but even some of my English friends, who have been here some years, say eventually the quality care given here will crumble because the economy can't afford it. Some go as far as to suggest incomers don't get access to care for the elderly services until they've lived here for x number of years. And that's English opinions. :)

Brian said...

The standard sign in old train toilets "Do not flush while the train is in the station" had to be changed in local trains in Yorkshire because "while" is understood as until in God's Own County.
I realise I'm being pedantic but, counter-intuitively, the highest common factor is a smaller number than the lowest common denominator. GCSE bitesize.

English Pensioner said...

As a reader points out in today's Daily Telegraph, the phrase 'do not drink alcohol while taking this medicine' could quite reasonably be interpreted as meaning that you should not use your G&T to help swallow the pills, but that it would be OK ten minutes later once you have taken them.

subrosa said...

Oh Brian and after all these years of throwing money into education. What excuse do the educationalists have? Nothing but throw more money into it.

subrosa said...

Maybe it's the word taking which needed to be changed to using EP?

Iain said...

When I was younger I used to take pills for hay fever which had a prohibition about drinking alcohol.

What was never clear was the time span. Sure you could understand that having a wee dram after the pill would be idiotic but what about having a drink after work if you had taken the pill in the morning?

Or to take the point of EP above. No you would not knock back medicine with a G&T but when can you do so? And maybe ten minutes is OK.

The drug manufacturers need to get their instructions clear I agree, but it goes further than minor changes in the wording.

subrosa said...

I've always asked pharmacists about anything to do with medicine they dispense to me Iain and luckily been given good advice. Especially here, in a rural community, they do have that little bit of time to spend to explain.

My understanding of the avoid alcohol means don't drink while on this course of medication. Usually I ask why that is and I've had a variety of answers over the years. Some medicines need to be cleared from your system for say 3 days before alcohol is safe but the information leaflet inside didn't mention it.

So you're right, it needs more than wording, it needs accuracy too.

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