NHS Executive in association with the Doctor-Patient Partnership and the Health Education Authority 64 pages Free

The NHS has reason to be proud of the birthday events for its 50th anniversary. These have been an outstanding success - well, almost. The NHS Home Healthcare Guide is a 50th birthday present. It is for anyone facing a minor illness or sudden health crisis at home, and it has been produced in association with the Doctor-Patient Partnership and the Health Education Authority.

The idea is clearly right, for 1.8 million of the 2 million copies printed have already been requested. The take-up shows both the need and the paucity of good, impartial information to help people make decisions about their access to healthcare.

After so much talk about patient partnerships, The Home Healthcare Guide is one of the few things on offer and, frankly, it's not enough.

The guide's authors, both GPs and health writers, have done a very impressive job in covering a vast amount of basic healthcare with straightforward, accessible accounts. The contacts section at the back of the guide is particularly good, with the welcome addition of website addresses.

What lets the authors down, and makes this, for me, a 50th anniversary failure, is the poor production quality. Effective publishing means making intelligent judgements about audience, style, format and layout, typesetting and design, illustration, editing, indexing, colour, binding and finishing.

This guide gets so many basics wrong. It is not just that it overloads each page with unimaginative text in small print. Nor that the use of 'NHS Executive blue' and uninformative cartoons makes most pages as visually interesting as a telephone directory. Nor that the size and shape, poor quality binding (which began to fall apart after three days) and even poorer finish (my copy had eight pages uncut) makes it look like a dodgy offprint.

There is something more worrying than all these basic errors. Although co-produced by the HEA, the book ignores the plethora of excellent health information material produced in recent years: material that understands its audience and can capture the imaginations of readers.

Guides produced by, for example, the Family Planning Association on sex education for young people are simply in a different league to the Home Healthcare Guide.

The NHS is excellent at finding experts to get the facts right. It's time to find experts to do the rest.

Ian Wylie

Director of corporate affairs

King's Fund.