The Department of Health is about to transform its web site from something resembling a 'typical 1950s civil service design' with a 'mystifying' database into a modern and comprehensive source of information for the public and professionals alike. How do I know? It says so.
Towards the end of 1997, the DoH commissioned qualitative and quantitative research into users' and potential users' views of the existing site and of the prototype which may replace it. The results were encouragingly positive, and the researchers recommended that it should go ahead with the changes.
The full DoH market research report can currently be found under 'What's new'. It makes interesting reading, but beware - it will also take up more than a megabyte of memory, so make sure you have the time, and the space on your hard disk, before you start to download it.
Intriguingly, health authority managers made up the largest group among the self-selected sample who contributed to the quantitative element of the study, followed closely by trust managers and non-clinical academics. And although they had little interest in the Internet per se, they regarded it as a 'useful tool'.
The first element of the new site is already in place - a search engine limited to the DoH site itself. More, as yet unspecified, is promised. Let's just hope it doesn't all get bogged down in the 'technical problems' currently afflicting the Central Office of Information.
The COI moved its presence and its Government press release menu to a new address last month. The intention is to provide a more efficient service, with press releases updated several times each day and a full text search facility. That's the theory, anyway.
For the time being, it has had to resurrect its old site and run the two side by side while it works out what went wrong and how to put it right.