The Internet has blown away the walls of libraries as effectively as Semtex, Dr Muir Gray, director of the National electronic Library for Health, told a conference of NHS IT and informatics professionals in London this week.

But the new online world leaves those seeking information about health with a choice of literally thousands of websites of varying quality.

“Our mission is to provide the best quality information for people.  We do this because we believe knowledge is the enemy of disease.  The application of what we know will have a bigger impact on disease than any drug or technology,” said Gray.

NeLH users of the future broadly were of three types, he explained.  There were the specialists, the public and the generalists.  For the specialists the NeLH would have about 30 libraries with 25 devoted to clinical areas and the others offering services in areas such as informatics and management.

The public will use NHS Direct Online, but the NeLH would cater for them too, said Gray.  Many members of the public were better educated than clinicians and they usually only had one condition to look after and learn about.

The generalists were an interesting group, he said.  “For example, who deals with heart failure? Cardiologists only see a tiny proportion of heart failure.  It’s much more likely to dealt with by the GP in Coventry or the nurse running a private nursing home in Cornwall.”

He explained that the NeLH was trying to provide a common core of quality assured knowledge to meet these needs – a common core of knowledge for the NHS.

The conference was convened to give IT and informatics professionals an opportunity to exchange ideas for making information work more effectively in the NHS.  There is an increasing drive to professionalise NHS IT staff and take a more strategic approach to workforce planning.

Di Millen, head of informatics at the NHS Information Authority explained that the aim was to get people in the right place at the right time. One of the key tasks had been to develop effective relationships with NHS workforce development confederations around England and they are all being asked to identify a person to lead on IT staffing.

A show of hands to test delegates’ awareness of the human resources strategy for healthcare IT, Making Information Count, showed that there was work to be done to communicate its messages more effectively.

Dr Glyn Hayes, president of the newly-formed UK Council of Health Informatics Professionals said there had been 1200 expressions of interest in registering with the council, which will aim to fulfil the same kind of regulatory role as the General Medical Council and the Nurses and Midwives Council.

Excellent local work in informatics was recognised when Professor Sir John Pattison, Director of Research & Development at the Department of Health presented the winners of the 2003 Leadership in Health Informatics Accolade Scheme to:

  • North Bradford PCT

  • Essex Shared Services Agency

  • Nottinghamshire Healthcare NHS Trust

  • Tees and North East Yorkshire NHS Trust

  • South Yorkshire Health Authority

The NHS Information Authority, which sponsored the accolades, said entries came from small scale projects and large scale initiatives that dealt with recruitment, retention, management and the development and motivation of informatics staff. The scheme will run again in 2004.