How health care library and information services have evolved since the creation of the NHS

Here, we take a look back through our archives at how health care libraries have developed from the advent of the NHS to present day.

The ability to access information, knowledge and evidence is critical to understanding and improving health care. The way we do this has come a long way since the NHS was established.

Library circa 1948

In 1948, The King’s Fund responded to a demand for information on all phases of hospital work by setting up The Division of Hospital Facilities. This included a reference library and ‘facilities to enable [users] to be constantly in touch with the latest information available’ (p 22). This new service marked the beginning of the Fund’s involvement in the development of library and information services for staff and patients across the NHS.

By 1952, the library contained ‘probably the most complete collection of hospital literature [...] in Great Britain’ (p 35–6). To manage this expanding collection, the library staff created the Master index of hospital literature – the precursor of The King’s Fund database.

Hospital Library services cover

The Fund also took a wider advisory role: Hospital library services: a pilot survey, published in 1959, looked at how library services in hospitals could be improved. At this time, providing information for professional study and research was considered outside the scope of hospital libraries; in fact, hospital staff were deemed only to complicate the work of librarians by borrowing without authority [...] books which are intended only for the patients’ (p 37). Despite this reputed bad behaviour, the report raised the case for offering services to hospital staff as well as patients, recommending that the ‘ideal’ library would provide services to both groups.

Information bureau circa 1948

The Hospital Centre review 1971–2 included a report on multidisciplinary libraries in hospitals. It noted a ‘growing awareness in hospitals that literature and information services are important’ (p.77) and reflected on improvements such as the appointment of the first NHS regional librarian. This post was created in 1967 by Wessex Regional Hospital Board to survey library facilities in the region and to make recommendations for their improvement. The following year, this librarian approached The King's Fund, the Scottish Hospital Centre and the Department of Health and Social Services (DHSS) collectively to form the beginning of a national information network for health libraries.

Providing a district library service cover

During the early 1980s this network grew and resulted in the formation of the NHS/DHSS Health Services Information Steering Group. Providing a district library service reports on workshops held by this group at The King’s Fund to discuss the contribution library services could make to information provision and use in the NHS. The work of this steering group, and its drive to emphasise the importance of access to information in delivering high-quality, cost-effective patient care, led to a period of rapid growth for The King’s Fund Library and health libraries in general.

In 1992, in response to this increased demand for services, The King’s Fund joined forces with the Department of Health and Nuffield Institute for Health Services Studies to form the Healthcare Management Information Consortium (HMIC). The consortium worked together to create the HMIC Database which contains the combined records from the Department of Health's and The King's Fund’s databases. This comprehensive bibliographic database of health management and policy literature is available to all NHS staff alongside a range of other evidence based resources via NICE Evidence Services.

As well as these online endeavours, The King’s Fund continues to run Information and Knowledge Services for all with an interest in health policy and management. You can access our resources and services in person at our Information Centre in Cavendish Square or online, via our current awareness service or our Twitter feed.

Find out more

Discover more about the history of The King’s Fund and health care in England in our digital archive, a complete archive of all of The King’s Funds publications from 1898 onwards.

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