The system introduced by former health secretary John Reid whereby hospital doctors write directly to patients instead of copying them in on GP correspondence, as outlined in the NHS Plan, has been called into question by research.
A study of GP and patient responses to the correspondence generated after outpatient consultations revealed that, while patients found letters designed for them easier to understand, most wanted to see the letter to the GP as well. Only one in five patients was satisfied with just the patient letter.
Twenty-two per cent of patients told Martyn Partridge, professor of respiratory medicine at Imperial College, London, that they preferred the letter sent to their GP and 58 per cent wanted to see it as well as the patient letter.
Professor Partridge examined the views of 62 patients and 45 of their GPs after a cardiology or respiratory outpatient appointment. GPs preferred the consultant's letter to the GP but suggested that if letters to GPs were written more clearly, they could go to patients as well.
'In the light of these findings, I am now looking to see if it is possible to make the GP letter suit both patient and GP needs,' Professor Partridge said. He is compiling a glossary of unavoidable medical terms to accompany a GP letter.