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Health and care: no stupid questions


If you could ask any question about health care, what would it be?

The King’s Fund’s Information and Knowledge Services team has been responding to health policy questions for many years as part of its enquiry service. We get queries from a range of organisations and individuals including NHS staff, those working in local authorities and the voluntary sector, academics, researchers, students and the public. No question is a stupid question and we aim to answer each one as well as we can. We put our enquiries into five categories: case studies, counts, clarification, comparisons and comments. Let’s look at each category in turn using real examples of the queries we get sent.

Typically, when clinicians, health managers and researchers get in touch with us they want to find examples of best practice or case studies of initiatives being implemented. Some examples of questions include, ‘Are there good case studies of online communities within the mental health sector?’ or ‘Do you have good examples of where information about patient experience is collected and then used for service improvement?’

Counts refer to statistical enquiries. What often seems like a simple numbers question can be the most complex to answer. A frequent question is ‘How many hospital beds are there in the UK?’ Given the way data is collected across the four nations there is no straightforward answer to this and our role as information specialists is to provide the different statistical data so the enquirer can decide how best to use the information we find. We also receive requests for demographic data for specific areas, for example, the number of people in Leeds who have long-term neurological conditions. Or questions about NHS costs, such as ‘How much does a missed GP consultation cost?’

Clarification queries can vary from how to cite a King’s Fund publication in a report to the potential impact of new initiatives such as sustainability and transformation partnerships, the NHS five year forward view and the newly renamed integrated care systems. Or finding details about implementing a specific care pathway. Supportive evidence from national NHS bodies are key sources in answering these types of questions.

Comparisons usually involve queries about how the NHS measures up against other health systems. Queries tend to be very focused, for example, international comparisons of out-of-hours/weekend provision of hospital care, or a comparison of elective care models in Australia and Europe. Drawing on information from peer-reviewed journals and comparative studies helps provide context.

We are receiving an increasing number of comments about the current health and care system, which generally come from people raising concerns and queries based on their personal experiences and perceptions of health and care. These can be triggered by a media comment from an expert in the Fund about a new report or news headlines, such as the ones we saw in January about winter pressures. Often this can create a reaction about how people experience the NHS or motivate them to put forward ideas of how the NHS could work or be funded better. We have had many such suggestions including one about how the NHS could save money from centralised purchasing of latex gloves. We are also contacted by individuals who would like to challenge decisions about their care. Sometimes we are not best placed to help but we always recommend organisations that can.

Our team strives to deliver quality information from authoritative sources including our database, which is updated daily. We know that people need guidance and support to understand the constantly changing health and care landscape. We can see that the need for this is ever-increasing, as revealed by the popularity of our animation explaining how the NHS in England works, and the overwhelming interest in our first Health and care explained conference. If you have a question, no matter how basic, about health and care policy, why not contact us.