The Secretary of State for Health, Patricia Hewitt launched a new NHS Electronic Library for Ethnicity and Health at Portcullis House in Westminster on Monday 23rd of October - a library in which the gaps in knowledge are almost as important as its content.
The web-based library, created by researchers at at the University of Warwick and De Montfort University in Leicester, will provide the first such resource in Europe. It will bring together quality assured research from around the world to help professionals and the public access the very best available medical evidence relevant to minority ethnic groups & cultures.
However the Library will be just as important for the gaps it highlights as it is for its actual content. As Sir Muir Gray, Director of Knowledge Process and Safety for NHS Connecting for Health, said: "The Warwick and De Montfort team have managed to take an area of terrific complexity and developed an electronic library which makes sense and is clear and easy to use.
"This library will not only be an invaluable tool bringing together the very best in current research evidence on ethnicity and health it will also highlight the significant gaps in our knowledge of how a range of treatments impact on ethnic minorities. This I hope will inspire new research and clinical trials that will help to close these gaps & provide even more high quality content for this new library."
This is the third web-based Specialist NHS Library to be developed by University of Warwick Medical School Staff. The other two are in the fields of diabetes, and emergency care. However this library had particular challenges to be overcome by the joint Warwick and De Montfort team. Firstly, unlike the other medical libraries, a great deal of important material in this area is to be found outside medical journals in a very diverse range of detailed reports by various public sector organizations. Locating, accessing and quality checking this material is vital but difficult.
Secondly, helping users to search the library has required careful thought as to the range of terms they might employ to look for evidence on different ethnic minorities. The team has had to be mindful of this diversity of language in indexing its material and in the guidance and direction it gives users in how to search the library.
The researchers believe that their pioneering work in constructing such a Specialist Library for Ethnicity and Health for the NHS will become a benchmark that will assist other countries in their construction of their own electronic libraries of information in this field.
With growing ethnic minority populations in most countries, this form of free, easy access, one-stop shop will be essential for good medical care in the 21st century.
The library also collates patient information in minority languages. In future, the team hope to look at how this can be quality assured by working with different minority communities.