Health needs assessment in practice

Health needs assessment has become an integral part of healthcare commissioning, and the 1989 NHS reforms gave further credence to this process. With the advent of primary care groups and the renewed emphasis on health needs assessment, particularly by primary care professionals, the book's publication is timely.

There are several interpretations of health needs assessment, but this book looks at change. It is important to know what to change from as well as what to change to: health needs assessment is about identifying unmet needs and making service changes to meet them.

Meanwhile, increasing demand for healthcare coupled with scarce resources necessitates priority setting, and health needs assessment is seen as a tool for this.

The contributors are from academic as well as practical backgrounds. It is easy to relate their perceptions to practical work, and this is the book's strength.

Health needs incorporate the wider determinants of health such as deprivation, housing, lifestyle, education and employment, as embodied in the recent Acheson report and the earlier green paper, Our Healthier Nation.

Health needs assessment is a way of monitoring and promoting equity in the provision and use of health services and addressing inequalities in health, thus narrowing the gap between the better-off and worse-off in society.

Information gathering is key to this, and the book suggests consultation with service user groups as a way forward.

The New NHS, with strategies such as health improvement programmes and PCGs to implement them, forces hospitals and primary care to undertake needs assessment to develop services that match their populations' needs.

Contributors set out in simple, non-jargon terms how to embark upon a health needs assessment in primary care - the book's main emphasis.

The process is broken down into five stages, with a practical guide on what to do to assess the needs of the local population. There is enough here to whet the appetite, especially for those involved in primary care and PCGs.

The authors should be congratulated for providing such a tool to assist professionals in improving the health of their local populations.

There are other books with greater detail on health needs assessment, but this is a useful introduction for the uninitiated.

Dr Sam Ramaiah

Director of public health medicine, Walsall health authority.

Dr Shalini Pooransingh,

Specialist registrar, Walsall HA.