Thursday, 15 July 2010

How will the new NHS White Paper affect NHS library and information services?

OK so looking back I realise my last posting was a little heated and 'of the moment'! I have now had a few days to reflect on the White Paper and even got a chance to read through most of it to try and work out what it may mean for NHS library and information service provision. Unfortunately it is far from clear but I will mention a few things I think are worth considering...

1. Referencing
The first thing I noticed skimming through the Paper is just how poorly referenced it is. There are many examples of broad sweeping statements like "information, combined with the right support, is the key to better care, better outcomes and reduced cost" (p13) and "there is compelling evidence that better information also creates a clear drive for improvement in providers" (p14) with no references to where this "evidence" can be found. Only 8 scholarly journal articles are referenced and only one of these is a systematic review. There are also no hypertext links to other documents mentioned in the Paper, even DH ones. Come on guys - this document puts even Wikipedia to shame!

2. An 'information revolution'

The Paper goes into a fair amount of detail about providing sufficient information to patients to enable them to make decisions about their healthcare (section 2). This will apparently be in the form of a 'information revolution' which is partly to do with providing patients with access to "comprehensive, trustworthy and easy to understand information from a range of sources on conditions, treatments, lifestyle choices and how to look after their own and their family’s health" (p.13) but also giving them greater access to their health records and more effective outcome measures for better accountability. "Patients and carers will be able to access the information they want through a range of means" but it is not clear what these "means" are and I will be interested to see the information strategy the government is planning on publishing sometime in the autumn. I am not sure the government realises the complexities and expense involved in organising and distributing health information to patients and the extra burden this will have on healthcare providers.

3. Education and training
The other area of greatest relevance to library and information services is of course education and training. This is mentioned very briefly towards the end of the Paper (section 4.32) and it seems that moneys intended for the purpose of education and training (MPET) will be gradually put into the hands of providers, rather than the DH, allowing them to make local decisions about training and education for staff. In theory this is a good idea but unless the finance is properly ring-fenced it has a habit of 'disappearing' and being used to fund other things. It remains to be seen whether the GP consortia and the Centre for Workforce Intelligence (whoever they are?!) will have enough clout and interest to see this does not happen.

So, overall still not very impressed! I guess we library and information professionals will just have to wait and see what the real impact of this White Paper will be on our services to users....

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