Digital knowledge resources: rethinking NHS investment

Digital knowledge resources are high on the agenda. We know that NHS library services across England will recently have spent time finalising subscriptions for 2020. Those with April-March subscriptions will be gearing up for a similar round of activity in the Spring, involving publishers and local procurement and finance departments. Next there is all the associated work of updating holdings in catalogues and link resolvers to be done.

Elsewhere in the UK healthcare library staff now spend very little time on activity relating to e-resources. In Scotland, Wales and Ireland, the vast majority of NHS-funded digital knowledge resources are purchased and managed centrally, freeing up time for local library staff to focus their expertise on delivering knowledge services to users.

In England only 25% of total NHS spend on e-resources is invested nationally, and all the work associated with 75% of investment has to take place locally. Given the commonality of the resources we see being purchased locally for acute, mental health and community staff, and in the context of the principles of Knowledge for Healthcare principles relating to equity, efficiency and economy of scale, these proportions should surely be the other way around.

Open access publishing is advancing. The transition from payment for access to payment for publication is gathering pace. In our knowledge-based industry embracing the administration involved in article processing fees hardly seems a good use of the time and expertise of already-stretched NHS library staff. A nationally coordinated approach makes even more sense.

With the majority of HEE library funding distributed to trusts within education tariff, we can currently only take small steps towards this. We continue to engage with suppliers about the need for fair and transparent pricing which incentivises collaborative procurement, uses appropriate workforce numbers rather than bed numbers, recognise the value of content over platform-specific ‘bells and whistles’, and will support cost-neutral transition to open access, and some have responded very positively. HEE has commissioned NICE to procure a new Framework Agreement to replace the one which expires in September 2020 and we expect it to reflect all these principles.

We’re working hard to seek the introduction of a separate LKS Tariff which may provide a mechanism for pooling funded, but re-stacking public investment in digital collections will continue to rely on the willingness of library teams and host trusts to share costs and combine effort. The signs are promising: our 2018 survey of managers indicated that 86% would definitely or possibly be willing to pool e-resource funding nationally. We see lots of potential to scale up successful local collaborative procurement schemes. Greater central and national procurement will avoid replication of effort, freeing up staff time that local service managers can choose to direct resource into services to staff and learners, in the best interest of patients.

As we go into a new decade, the future lies in your hands. We are gearing up for the challenge of the new decade! Are we ready?

Season’s Greetings from the HEE Library Leads Resource Discovery Team
Helen Bingham, Richard Bridgen, Dominic Gilroy, Helene Gorring, Lucy Reid and Jenny Toller

2 thoughts on “Digital knowledge resources: rethinking NHS investment

  1. How refreshing to see this in writing! It’s crazy how much time, money and effort is duplicated across England with each library administering its own holdings. It’s so wasteful. Why not also look at moving to a “Just in time” model rather than subscribing “Just in case” which is what we traditionally do?

    1. Thanks Jill. And very good point about ‘just in time’ access alternatives to ‘just in case’ subscriptions. Interestingly, we are seeing more publishers offering credit payment models as alternative to subscriptions. The cost-per-download data included in the results of the audit of local e-resource purchasing indicates that most library services are well sighted on this and only maintaining subscriptions where the average cost per download makes a subscription a cost-effective alternative to ILLs. Quick and efficient document requesting, sourcing and delivery of course needs to be a key element of our national resource discovery infrastructure. The Inter-Network Collaboration (INC) Scheme makes it easier than ever before to discover what the NHS already holds which may be available for sharing under the CLA Licence, but having 6 catalogues to search is still 5 too many!

      Helen and the Resource Discovery Team

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