Communicating health research (131) Evidence Week in Parliament 2022 (2)

23 November, 2022

On 25 June 2015 the BMA [British Medical Association] Representatives approved unanimously: “That this meeting applauds efforts to bring essential healthcare information to citizens in low resource settings, welcomes the BMA’s ongoing support for the Healthcare Information for All campaign, and calls upon the UK government to prioritise support for initiatives that improve the availability and use of health information.”

Sense about Science organised a public online event whereby MPs and civil servants answered questions about the UK government and evidence. On behalf of HIFA I asked: "What is Parliament doing to promote the availability and use of reliable healthcare information for the population?" (the recording is available here: - question raised at 1h 13m)

The brief response was given by Ed Humpherson, head of the Office for Statistics Regulation: "The thing I've always been struck by is just how much interest parliament akes in the provision of reliable health information, I've been before Greg Clark's committee two or three times and I'm always pushed on what are we doing to make sure that the public has access to information. And the other thing I think parliament does really well, is the committee preports are just a fantastic resource. So I think parliament is really focused on making sure the public is informed and is able to hold policy decisions to account by making sure there's plentiful evidence."

And then the host moved to the next question.

In my view the question was not answered and the person who responded appeared to be talking about access to health data and statistics rather than access to healthcare information. The answer was an accolade of parliament without explaining what they do. If I had answered the question myself I would have pointed to several areas where the UK does excel: the excellent NHS website, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence, the British National Formulary and the recent momentum towards universal access to personal medical records. My follow-up question would have been: "Given these achievements, will the UK Government be the first government in the world to commit explicitly to healthcare information for all, whereby everyone has acces to the reliable healthcare inforamtion they need to protect their own health and the health of others?"

Specifically I would urge the British National Formulary to take a more active role in global access to information on medicines. Many years ago they worked in partnership with WHO, and the BNF (arguably the best guide to rational prescribing) was freely available to everyone. Not any more. We continue to have a global situation whereby: ‘Globally, most prescribers receive most of their prescribing information from the pharmaceutical industry and in many countries this is the only information they receive.’ World Medicines Report, WHO

Notwithstanding I commend Sense about Science for giving a voice to many people and for their work in general. But live events such as this are inadequate to explore complex issues, especially because the 90-minute event covered all types of evidence, not just health. I have written to Sense about Science with the offer to collaborate with HIFA on a future event on the availability and use of reliable healthcare information/evidence and to complement this with a thematic discussion on HIFA.

Best wishes, Neil

Joint Coordinator, HIFA Communicating health research

Joint Coordinator HIFA Project on Information for Prescribers and Users of Medicines

Let's build a future where every person has access to reliable healthcare information and is protected from misinformation - Join HIFA:

HIFA profile: Neil Pakenham-Walsh is coordinator of the HIFA global health movement (Healthcare Information For All - ), a global community with more than 20,000 members in 180 countries, interacting on six global forums in four languages in collaboration with WHO. HIFA brings stakeholders together to accelerate progress towards universal access to reliable healthcare information. HIFA is administered by Global Healthcare Information Network, a UK based non-profit in official relations with the World Health Organization.

Twitter: @hifa_org