Medico-legal group warns 'tsunami' of guidelines swamping GPs

An 'impractical and burdensome' quantity of guidelines is swamping GPs and may mean crucial information is being missed, a medico-legal group has warned.

The group said the sheer number of guidelines produced each month was eroding their value.

The Medical Protection Society (MPS) found that 15 guidelines aimed at GPs were published in just 31 days in October by key health organisations such as NICE, the DH, the RCGP and the Care Quality Commission.

The majority ran to over 30 pages, with some as long as 100 sheets.

Dr Stephanie Bown, MPS director of policy and communications, said: 'The tsunami of unfocussed guidelines and protocols received each month is undermining their value.'

There is an expectation of doctors to have local knowledge about every subject, she said, but this is a 'wholly unrealistic and unnecessary source of pressure'.

'It is absolutely right that a doctor keeps abreast of new and emerging developments in their field of practice, but to expect a high level of awareness of everything is impractical and unnecessarily burdensome. More should be done to help doctors identify and focus on the information that is relevant to their practice.'

In the past 12 months, NICE alone has published 111 guidelines and appraisals across all medical disciplines. Many of these concern primary care and GPs, directly or indirectly.

The institute is set to substantially increase its output next year when many new quality standards are published.

Dr John Adams, associate medico-legal adviser at the MPS and a practising hospital doctor, said: 'Often the guidelines are so specialised that it is not relevant to all doctors’ practice. The danger is that doctors may receive so many emails of varying importance that the most crucial information is being missed.'

Dr Adams called for the publishing of guidance to be co-ordinated across health organisations, including summaries of key points on all documents.

A NICE spokesman said: 'We are committed to helping GPs and other doctors access our advice in the easiest and quickest ways possible. We do not send unsolicited mail or email to GPs.'

He added that NICE had recently introduced a section of its website soley for GPs, and has also launched NICE Pathways, which presents guidance and support documents in topic-based flowcharts.

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