PUBLIC INFORMATION Directories to carry local health contacts

Published: 13/10/2005 Volume 115 No. 5976 Page 13

A former NHS head of communications has set up a deal with Yellow Pages allowing primary care trusts to buy space in their local directory.

The agreement will allow PCTs to inform the public about their services as well as meet statutory obligations to inform taxpayers how their money is being spent, claims Peter Davies, head of communications at Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire strategic health authority until last year.

Mr Davies, who left to set up the independent project, told HSJ: 'In researching this idea PCTs told me that distributing a prospectus to each household is extremely difficult and expensive. People do not keep leaflets and they do not know where to look for information about the NHS.' The deal with Yellow Pages solved many of these issues, he said. 'It goes to 97 per cent of households and has extremely high retention rates.' Two thirds of people had access to it at work, as well as being accessible to people on holiday.

Independent research by Yellow Pages last year found that the public thought that local health service information was essential for their local directory.

'If we could get to a position where everyone knows they can look in their Yellow Pages for information about NHS services it would be a real breakthrough, ' said Mr Davies.

By setting up a national agreement with Yellow Pages he was able to keep costs down and solve the problem of PCT patches crossing a number of different regional editions of the well-known directory.

Mr Davies said: 'The package we have put together allows PCTs to put in the information they feel is important. It is very flexible and can be updated every year. It is the Swiss Army knife in the NHS communications toolbox.' PCTs in Bristol, Sherwood Forest, Kent, Manchester and Liverpool are already signed up and their information has started appearing in Yellow Pages in the last three weeks.

Another 50 are in the pipeline.

In Bristol - where three PCTs in the Avon, Gloucestershire and Wiltshire SHA area were the first to sign up to the deal - the Yellow Pages edition currently in distribution to 388,000 households and 33,000 businesses carries eight pages of NHS information in its preface.

Bristol North PCT chief executive Chris Born said: 'We have included a wide range of information we hope will be useful to local people, ranging from how to find a GP or dentist to how to get help to give up smoking or live positively with a long-term health problem.' North Somerset PCT chief executive Katie Norton added: 'This was a great opportunity for us to put together a detailed guide to local health services which will be kept, and will be available to each household for quite some time.' A Yellow Pages spokesperson said: 'We are absolutely delighted to be able to support the health service in this pioneering project and help get better information to patients.'

This is not the first time the NHS has used a commercial directory to get information to the public. In 2004 NHS Direct published a special edition of its self help guide in England's 154 Thomson Local directories.