The National Library for Health (NLH) is to close its online clinical question and answer service this week despite protests from its users.
The Primary Care Question Answering Service has handled more than 6,000 queries from GPs, pharmacists and other primary care staff since it was set up in 2004 but will cease operation from 30 June.
The NHS Institute for Innovation and Improvement, which is now responsible for the NLH, told EHI Primary Care that European Union procurement rules meant it was not allowed to extend the current contract and was required to undertake a formal procurement.
Jon Brassey, director of the Primary Care Question Answering Service, said he had received more than 100 emails expressing disappointment following the announcement of the closure of the service.
One GP wrote: “The news that your service is being withdrawn is causing howls of protest! GPs think it is virtually the only good thing to come out of modernisation of the NHS. Can we do anything to promote continuation?”
Another said: “This service has greatly improved my practice. It has been a great resource. I can’t believe its being withdrawn. I will find it a great loss.”
Brassey, who had a contract with the NLH to supply the service, said primary care users could use the online form to email in clinical questions which he and his team found answers to, usually within 24 hours and often with six hours.
He told EHI Primary Care: “I am disappointed that they are closing the service when there is clearly a need for something like this and it is a shame it couldn’t be kept going while they get on with the procurement which hasn’t even started yet.”
Brassey also runs ATTRACT , a similar service for primary care in Wales under contract with the Welsh National Public Health Service. He originally set up the service for primary care staff in Gwent in 1997.
He added: “The NLH won’t ask me my opinion about the question and answer service because I could be a future contractor and yet I am the one who set up what is the only question and answer service like it in the UK and arguably the world and I have been doing this for 10 years.”
A statement issued by the NHS Institute for Innovation and Improvement said: “Before any possible procurement the NLH must assess how to move forward with question and answer services including exploring partnerships with NHS librarians and other expert service providers.
“The NLH is reviewing the question and answer services and will plan a way forward within the context of funding, sustainability, quality assurance and other resource issues.”
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