This week’s talking point comes from the government’s White Paper, Equity and Excellence: Liberating the NHS.
Full of messages about information, the document should excite all those whose role is concerned with information and knowledge management in the NHS today. Soundbites that warm the opportunistic heart include: ‘Putting patients first through an information revolution’; ‘A culture of open information, active responsibility and challenge will ensure that patient safety is put above all else’; and ‘The Department is committed to evidence-based policy making and a culture of evaluation and learning’.
Most importantly the White Paper highlights the need for an information revolution in the NHS. This heralds a vast improvement in the availability of comprehensive and accurate information on conditions, treatments, and lifestyle choices as well as the prospect of online communication between patient and practitioner.
One could be cynical about the chances of success in delivering such major organisational and service change but the principles in the White Paper adhere to the common sense thinking of Muir Gray, the first CKO for the NHS, and the vision driving the NHS Direct Online service. Although the information strategy for the NHS is scheduled for the year end, the implications of ‘Putting patients first’ suggest major changes in the way that library and information services are organised to deliver the published information and information management skills that evidence based practice and patient information access demand. These were previously highlighted by the Hill Report.
There is bound to be much angst over the prospects for change and a focus on potential threats to current library and information services. People involved in published information supply, in information literacy training and in practical application of knowledge management must respond to the White Paper with imaginative approaches to ensuring that the NHS has access to the information it needs and makes the best use of its own knowledge and experience. Cutting bureaucracy and administrative costs is a key message for the NHS but is not incompatible with the required level of excellence in information and knowledge related activity, without which the NHS service will be at high risk of failure.