There is too much focus on the potential side-effects of medicines on information leaflets inside packs and not enough on their benefits, says the Academy of Medical Sciences. Its new report calls for them to be rewritten to give a more balanced view. A survey by the academy found the public was confused by information on medicines and did not trust scientific research. Scientists said clear communication with patients was a priority. The side-effects listed on patient information leaflets (PILs) are often very long and off-putting, the report says. They make people unduly anxious about taking medicines and could be the reason why fewer than 50% continue with drugs they have started taking. The likelihood of the side-effects occurring is also rarely explained – instead they are labelled “possible” or “serious”. And the benefits of the medicines are usually understated, taking up much less space on the leaflet than potential harms.Prof Sir John Tooke, chair of the Academy of Medical Sciences report, says there is too much “impenetrable” scientific language on leaflets. For example, the leaflet inside a box of paracetamol says that possible side-effects from taking the tablets are the chance of developing pancreatitis or hepatitis.  However, there is no information on what the conditions are or how big the risk of getting them is in reality. Rather than clearly explaining how symptoms will reduce, too many leaflets describe what the medicine does in complicated biological terms. “They aren’t written from a consumer’s perspective,” Prof Tooke says Patients should feel confident about the medicines they are taking, rather than uneasy. If they do not understand the information provided, they are less likely to feel good about taking them.For legal and regulatory reasons, there is a lot of information provided – but the report asks whether it is really there to help the public. Silvia Kirk is a mother of two from London, who took part in public workshops for the report. “I don’t always read the information leaflets in medicine packs, unless it’s for my children – one of whom has asthma,” she says. “Usually my heart is all over the place as I’m reading them, because I’m wondering whether the risks outweigh the benefits.”Some of the information doesn’t make sense at all. When you’re poorly you don’t want to feel anxious too – and I think it’s particularly confusing for older people.

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