Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Information so hard to find?

There have been several reports about allergy treatment and the risks faced by sufferers this week and I will come to those at some stage.

But I am intrigued by an announcement yesterday by the British government that it plans to develop "information prescriptions". Presumably the idea is that a GP writes a patient some kind of code, or generates a page, with a list of information and support sources, including web-based discussion groups.

Then there was this bizarre statement from health minister Rosie Winterton: "We are all busy people. We don't want to have to trawl through endless websites or publications to find the help we need. We want to be able to lay our hands on the right information and advice as quickly as possible, and this is even more important when you have a long-term condition and every minute is precious."

Well, I am as busy as anyone and I have found time to do just that - to trawl through endless web sites. Perhaps Ms Winterton has never been ill and does not appreciate how a long term illness simply takes over your life. Everything changes, like it or not, and you don't have to be self-obsessed to realise that.

Then there is the question about laying your hands on the right information. It is of course a problem. I tried the NHS Direct web-site, the government's main information portal at the outset, and thought it was useless. It is certainly the case that a referral to the right charity can unearth a lot of information. But then typing two words into Google can also do that. Has Ms Winterton ever used a search engine?

Apparently the scheme is being piloted. That would suggest the information on offer must remain pretty limited. There is not enough detail in the announcement to know whether the prescription includes access to computers and broadband for those who do not have them. I doubt it.

So they have a dilemma. On the one hand some people have access to very little information and do not know how to obtain it. They will need to be led by the hand. Others have access to too much information and may be led astray by crank web sites. They might benefit from a bit of training and advice on how to sift information and check sources. I bet this is not happening. I bet all we are getting is a glorified version of NHS Direct as in general any government initiative of this kind is about controlling information, not releasing it. That can be dangerous.

No comments: