Letters

The feature 'Co-operative society' (pages 24-27, 21 October) is right in calling for primary healthcare teams to look at the 'entire pathway involved in decision making and accessing care', and it will further fuel the debate surrounding NHS Direct's role and structure.

But one part of the 'pathway' that has been and, no doubt, will continue to be neglected by primary healthcare teams is that of health information. So far, discussions about NHS Direct have been based on the assumption that it will be a purely medical advisory service.

However, its arrival heralds the demise of the Health Information Service, which will be phased out between April and December 2000.

So what plans have been made to ensure health information will continue to be provided? What provision for offering health information have NHS Direct schemes made?

The answer appears to be little, if any. Yet health information is needed, wanted and is cost-effective. Health information empowers patients, enabling them to make more efficient use of health services. One million people access HIS nationally each year, while a survey found that potential users of NHS Direct wanted health information to be provided, with information on local services, diagnosed diseases and important conditions.

Current costs of telephoning HIS are estimated at 5p per call, while call-handler training costs are minimal when compared to nurses.

What more can a service do to get people's support and attention?

Catherine Kennelly Researcher College of Health London