Patient information services in more than 50% of NHS trusts are under threat or being cut, according to a survey by the Patient Information Forum.
The forum said the findings of its survey of NHS health information staff suggest that the NHS will struggle to meet the government’s "information revolution" aspirations.
It also said they indicated that the coalition’s strategy is being put at risk by short-term thinking and the pressure to make efficiency savings.
The Patient Information Forum, an independent body calling for better provision of information about treatments and health services, surveyed health information staff working in 67 trusts.
Some 50% of these were in the acute sector, 40% were primary care trusts and the remainder were other trusts, such as community and foundation trusts.
Half of respondents reported that they think or know that patient information services in their trust are under threat and 3% said they were already being cut.
Another 43% said patient information at their trust was secure and 3% reported an expansion in their information functions.
Two thirds of respondents said patient information was growing in importance in their trust; but only 39% had a budget for patient information and half of those were running on £8,000 or less a year.
The forum claimed this is insufficient to deliver anything like the range and quality of information that patients need.
The survey also found that only 6% of NHS trusts have so far received Information Standard certification and one in four have either no trust-wide standards for patient information or standards are voluntary.
Mark Duman, president of the Patient Information Forum, said trusts were struggling to make information a priority despite the government’s insistence that patient information was at the heart of the information revolution.
He added: “Standards vary considerably and the majority of NHS trusts have a long way to go when it comes to reaching an acceptable standard. Patient information in the NHS, especially at local level, is all too often poorly resourced, uncoordinated and given low priority.”
Duman told EHI Primary Care that he was particularly concerned that the focus had been on national initiatives and that there was "locally no real traction on the information agenda."
He added: "We have got members losing their jobs because information is seen as an easy thing to let go of. Information needs to be seen an an intervention in the same way as drugs or therapy and it needs investment in its development, delivery and evaluation."
The forum said the costs of patient information were often hard to quantify because they were spread across directorates, included in other costs or simply not recorded.
It claimed that without a designated budget, information would be vulnerable to cutbacks when costs needed to be saved.
The survey also found that just under half of trusts have board level support for patient information which the forum said was another indicator that patient information had a low priority.
The forum said almost all of the respondents to the survey were members and claimed that in other trusts without staff with the same level of interest and expertise in patient information the situation was likely to be worse.
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