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Pilot project improves clinician access to research resources

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Clinicians can lack the access to primary medical research that their counterparts in academia enjoy. Carolyn Alderson describes a new pilot that aims to redress the balance

Governments the world over are coming out strongly in favour of open access to publicly-funded research and associated data. It’s a change so profound that it will take years to plan and develop workable business models so that the changes can be implemented fully. National and international government bodies are pushing hard for interim policies to support improved access to important research work sooner rather than later.

This year, the EU Commission is implementing policies to improve access to publications and the data arising from research that will be funded under Horizon 2020. Back in 2012 the UK government-sponsored Finch Report recommended that existing licensing arrangements in Britain’s higher education, health and other sectors should be extended to open up publicly-funded research to wider exposure.

In response to Finch’s recommendation, Jisc - which offers digital services and solutions for UK education and research through measures like centrally negotiated licensing - has taken a fresh look at its NESLi2 licensing agreements to explore ways to extend their reach.

NESLi2 is a national set of agreements that were established a decade ago. They give authorised users in higher education, further education and research communities round the clock access to more than 7,000 online journals published by leading scholarly publishers, whether they are on campus or visiting colleagues and collaborators overseas.

One area that has come under scrutiny is health research. Researchers in academia often collaborate with practitioners in clinical settings. However, the resources that they have available are not the same. In the case of long-standing research projects between academic research groups and the British National Health Service (NHS), the academic researchers often have access to broader research than their NHS counterparts in clinical settings.

Aware of this disparity, Jisc is co-ordinating a 12-month pilot project to give clinicians working in NHS hospitals free access to respected medical and scientific journals that were not readily available to them before. Clinical content is already extensively and routinely provided by the NHS for use by its staff. This new initiative supplements what is already available to clinicians by adding in a new layer of primary scientific research. It will open up leading-edge research for scrutiny by those who treat patients and enable them to explore and evaluate the latest thinking on the causes disease.

The primary aim of this work is to improve patient care and the NHS has taken a lead on the steering group. NHS representatives from across the UK have worked alongside others from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE,) academic medical librarians and Jisc. Together we have worked to identify content that wasn’t already available within the NHS but which was licensed under NESLi2 for the academic research sector.

The publishers working on the pilot include many of the biggest names in scientific scholarly journal publishing from across the globe: AAAS, Annual Reviews, Elsevier, IOP Publishing, Nature Publishing Group, Oxford University Press, Royal Society of Chemistry and Springer.

The pilot is being funded by an anonymous donation of around£49,000. This donation is being used to cover the administrative costs that publishers are incurring to enable access to the new users, managing the authentication process and in collecting usage data. No funds are being made available to pay for the content itself. The pilot will run until the end of April 2015 and it will be followed by an analysis of the volume and type of use made of the content across the NHS. The ways in which healthcare workers use content, and how that differs from those working in academic research will also be measured. These insights will help us to identify the kinds of content that are most useful to NHS users and inform the development of practical business models to secure access to useful research into the future.

We hope that the lessons learned will have an impact not just in the UK but also much further afield. Alhough the UK is small in size, the semi-devolved nature of its health service has resulted in the NHS organisations in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland each managing access protocols for their healthcare staff differently. While that added a significant layer of complexity at the start of pilot, the lessons learned may well be useful in helping similar initiatives in other countries.

NHS practitioners who would like to find out more about the scientific and medical research that is now available to them through the project should contact their trust or health board librarian for details.

Carolyn Alderson is acting head of licensing at Jisc