Khokhar, W. A., Tosh, G. and Clifton, Andrew (2010) Can making physical healthcare policies more readable improve healthcare standards? The Psychiatrist, 34 (11). p. 500. ISSN 1758-3217

Gonzalez et al1 have pointed out an interesting omission in the form of poor physical healthcare monitoring in routine psychiatric practice and there is evidence from various local and national audits2,3 that it is not restricted to just the out-patient settings. The authors have also rightly picked up on key barriers to the implementation of physical healthcare monitoring in psychiatric settings, namely unclear responsibilities, competing demands on limited resources and liability issues. We believe that, for a start, this can be addressed by having readable, succinct and unambiguous physical healthcare policies.

Tosh et al4 examined the physical healthcare policy documents of the three mental healthcare trusts in the north sector of the East Midlands Strategic Healthcare Authority in detail. We found significant disparities between the policies in terms of size, readability, external references and reading cost. All the policies incorporated vague language in their directives and none could be read swiftly. It is only fair to make a reasonable observation here that if a policy cannot be accessed or is unfocused or vague, then it will be ignored.

Multiple layers of guidance and variation between deaneries, trusts and teams also complicate the situation. This leads to confusion and lack of confidence between team members as to which policy to follow. The result is a huge wastage of money from duplication and undermining of the ability of the policy to deliver its objectives.

A collaborative effort at the national level could produce a simple, clear and succinct policy for physical healthcare of people with serious mental illness. We believe that the Royal College of Psychiatrists is in a unique position to take a lead on this very important aspect of patient health and well-being. There are already themes emerging from research that it is an area which is very important to the patients, carers and their families alike.5 A clear national policy statement from the College should dispel current confusion, policy fatigue and waste.

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