Books

This is the 14th edition of the NHS Handbook, although this year it has become Wellard's NHS Handbook. Published in association with the NHS Confederation, it sets out to chart some of the major changes taking place in the NHS. As you would expect from a publication edited by ex- HSJ editor Peter Merry, and based on an editorial format devised by Chris Ham, the handbook is highly professional in both format and content.

As in previous editions, an impressive team of experts has been brought together to write short but incisive pieces on various aspects of health policy and health services organisation, management and finance.

Distinctive features of the 1999/2000 edition are an extended section on 'securing a quality workforce for the NHS', with useful factual information on different health service professions and - reflecting current emphasis on partnership working - a short section on 'working with others'.

It is also noticeable that the section entitled 'international perspective' is very brief, containing only two short contributions on the World Health Organisation's Health 21 targets, and NHS staff working overseas. Perhaps a decade of learning lessons from abroad is about to be replaced by a more introspective approach as managers grapple with the new NHS agenda.

In addition to the individual papers there is a short NHS factfile and a comprehensive listing of the names and addresses of health authorities, boards and trusts and the names of primary care groups. As befits a well- produced reference source, there is also a good index.

Given its wide scope, the handbook is likely to be something that you will want to dip into rather than read in its entirety. But who precisely will want to dip into it? As a contributor to previous editions, I confess to a vested interest when I say that, over the years, I have found it a valuable, potted-reference source. But its potential extends beyond policy and academic gurus. Indeed, given the influx of newly appointed non-executive directors to the NHS - many of whom have limited background experience of the service - it would probably represent extremely good value for money if chairs made sure that each non-executive director received a copy of the handbook as part of their induction programme.

A day spent scanning the book would provide some thoroughly worthwhile orientation.

That said, the editor announces in his preface that changing reading habits have led to plans for a 'radical enhancement' of the next edition. Apart from the obligatory reference to a website, what this means is not revealed.

However, input to this process is encouraged and, to this end, an evaluation form is contained asking for views on the content and how well it meets readers' needs. Each response will be entered in a draw for a free case of champagne - best of luck.

Ray Robinson Professor of health policy, London School of Economics.

Wellard's NHS handbook

Edited by Peter Merry The NHS Confederation and JMH Publishing 312 pages£41.95 confederation members£45 non-members