Developing Local Partnerships and Networks

With a greater emphasis in ensuring more patient and public involvement within the health and social care agenda, there is a greater need for information provision tailored towards the needs of patients and the wider public more generally. This provision is being met by libraries and other organisations across a number of sectors.

Why build networks between organisations providing health information?

There is a growing interest in how libraries provide information, what services they offer to patients and the public, as well as the potential opportunities to share ideas and best practice.  Currently, it is difficult to know what each service in different sectors offers, the common queries that are dealt with or where it would be appropriate to signpost to. By developing local multi-sector networks, there would be a platform for working collaboratively in local health information provision.

The benefits of partnerships and networks for all parties

There are many challenges to forming partnerships including time limitations, reaching consensus and managing relationships, but strong partnership-working uses resources more efficiently. Therefore when things are more challenging and uncertain, it is essential that working together remains a priority - by working together and sharing a core purpose we can achieve more than if we work alone.

A number of libraries in different sectors are already working in partnership and demonstrate good practices which could be established in other regions. Some of the activities which demonstrate the benefits of partnership working include: training programmes by NHS information professionals for public library staff in health information enquiries, redirecting queries from members of the public to other organisations to ensure the most appropriate response, co-ordinating reading challenges and sharing resources. 

Networking can connect information professionals who are working within the health and well-being arena. Some of the key principles of setting up a network include:

  • Mutual understanding between partners and an understanding of the local context are important pre-requisites for successful partnerships.
  • Partnerships benefit from clarity of purpose and agreed objectives and outcomes.
  • Partnerships are facilitated by good working relations between individuals, mutual trust and respect.
  • Partnerships work best when there is clarity about partners’ respective roles, responsibilities, lines of accountability and reporting mechanisms.
  • Partnerships are operationalised through structures and processes that need to be agreed, ‘fit for purpose’, and sufficiently flexible that they can adjust to changes.
  • Partnerships work well when there are positive outcomes for all partners; and, in the same way any risks associated with partnership working also need to be shared.
  • Effective systems for liaison and communication are crucial to partnership success.
  • Partnerships require an appropriate level of resources to ensure that they function smoothly.

Making Connections

Making connections outside your department, either with other staff in your organisation or with staff in other organisations and sectors, can open doors to joint working, sharing resources and other opportunities in order to enhance the local health information offer to patients and the public. You are also in an ideal position to make introductions between local healthcare staff and other health information providers where you can see opportunities for collaboration.

Examples and Resources:

  • Health Information Week held in July each year is ideal as a focus for starting partnership working, for example by planning a joint event.
  • ‘Libraries shaping the future: good practice toolkit’ has a section (2.1) on how public libraries contribute to local health and social care, including case studies
  • ‘The first incomplete field guide to well-being in libraries’ gives lots of examples of how public libraries in Wales are working with health services to improve well-being
  • A Libraries Taskforce blog post gives lots of examples of how public libraries can be made more welcoming for people with particular conditions.  Health libraries are in an ideal position to make introductions between public libraries and the relevant clinicians to help this happen

Where to start with a network?

A network can take time to evolve but having a common interest creates a focus for the group (e.g. working together on a joint event for Health Information Week). You may want to start by just making one or two connections, or you may want to start a local multi-sector network and invite a wider audience, for example, public libraries, public health, academic libraries, citizens’ advice bureaus, charities and third sector organisations as well as social care providers.

There are a number of ways of finding contacts:

What makes a network work well?

Each network will vary, depending on the range of organisations involved, the local health information issues and initial engagement from staff. Obtaining consensus about what is the purpose of the group is crucial in establishing a co-ordinated network.

Key things to consider when setting up a network:

  • Who is the main lead/champion of the group?
  • What are the aims and objectives of the network?
  • Who should be included?
  • How should the network be co-ordinated by the group?
  • How often would meetings be held?
  • What other methods of communication would be needed to keep issues alive and up-to-date?

Some networks hold regular meetings which can be face-to-face or virtual but also implement a mailing list or email discussion group to ensure a wider group can be contacted and consulted when needed. This opens up the network to a wider range of staff who may not be able to attend physical meetings. There are materials available with this guidance to support network activities including examples of Terms of Reference, network agenda and a Memorandum of Understanding. If you decide to hold a meeting or workshop, there is a Power Point slide pack, workshop programme and examples of group activities available to help you.

Potential Ideas/Opportunities for Joint Working

There are many different ways in which you can collaborate with other information providers. 

Drawing on External Resources and Materials

Other health information providers have collections of resources that may be useful to your organisation, patients or the public.  These range from sets of fiction books for book clubs to collections of patient information materials that you can make available in the health library.  Some public libraries will also donate withdrawn books for ward book trolleys.  Local public libraries’ e-books collection can include self-help titles that you can help publicise (as well as providing demonstrations of how to access them).  Voluntary organisations have a wealth of information materials available. Public libraries’ local history collections can be a rich source of material for reminiscence resources.  Developing reminiscence resources can be an area where public libraries, health libraries and memory service clinicians can collaborate.

Examples and Resources:

  • Reminiscence boxes held in Wirral public libraries and Wirral University Teaching Hospital; Sherwood Forest Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust reminiscence boxes and other Activities to Share resources – available to patients and carers as well as staff and volunteers at the hospital. The collection was initiated as part of a joint project with Hardwick CCG and Chesterfield Royal Hospital library. Later boxes were produced jointly with public library staff from Nottinghamshire County Council libraries.
  • Surrey and Sussex Libraries  made an Autumn Reads collection of fiction from their local public library available in two of their hospital libraries: aims to encourage reading for pleasure, improve literacy and make it easier for busy staff to use the public library.
  • Sherwood Forest Hospitals - the library worked with the Community Paediatrics department to assemble a Child Health Collection, for use by patients and carers of their autism, ADHD and Down’s syndrome clinics. A librarian attends the clinic when possible and takes/answers information requests and the external Community Paediatrics website promotes the Library and its collection to users.

Sharing Skills and Expertise

Staff in the voluntary sector and public libraries frequently handle enquiries on health topics from members of the public.  Health library staff have specialist skills in this area that are worth sharing, for example through providing training for public library staff or setting up a referral pathway for more complex health queries.  Conversely, health library staff are often not aware of the range of health information and resources available from other sources – inviting a public librarian or other health information provider in to talk to the library team can raise awareness and improve signposting to each other’s resources and expertise.  Your public library also often maintains the local Community Directory – it is worth checking to make sure that your Trust is aware of it and using it to good effect.

Examples and resources:

  • Shropshire information providers and staff from the mental health trust collaborated on setting up training on how to make libraries a comfortable environment for people with mental health issues – this idea is transferable to other themes.
  • North East London NHS Trust’s Library team provided hands on health information skills training to local public library staff as part of the Trust’s Recovery College pilot project.
  • South London and the Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust offers regular information literacy training and coaching sessions for staff in the local recovery colleges.
  • Several examples of cross sector collaboration – Nottinghamshire Health Information Forum (HIF) – members of hospital libraries, public libraries and voluntary sector bodies in Nottingham City and the county meet regularly to share knowledge and information. Similar examples at Brighton & Sussex University Hospitals NHS Trust - involved in a Brighton & Hove wide health information group; Barnsley Hospital NHS Foundation Trust – working in partnership with the staff of Barnsley Public Libraries and St Nicholas Hospital, Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust – part of the Well-being Information Partnership (WIP) with public libraries. Worcestershire and Herefordshire Inspire – a collaborative scheme between library sectors for sharing expertise and knowledge, promoting resources and supporting staff. The Worcestershire Books on Prescriptions Steering Group is a cross-sector group of GPs, volunteers, public and health groups working to launch and promote quality self-help books. This group is currently working to re-engage with the prison service to re-launch BOPs for prisons.

Taking Part in Events or Campaigns

A key element of the Knowledge for Healthcare vision statement involves ensuring patients and the public use the right information at the right time.  There are any number of events and themed weeks on healthcare topics; and these can provide an excellent opportunity to work with other local health providers and clinicians to get across health messages and raise awareness of the many sources of health information now available.  Possible activities range from putting up a display or staffing an information stall, to simply ensuring that relevant leaflets or awareness raising material from other local information providers are on display at your library or Trust events.  Your library could also join in initiatives to support literacy or encourage reading for pleasure, such as the national Six Book Challenge which is aimed at encouraging less confident readers.

Examples and Resources:

  • Reading Agency website for information about their events (including the Six Book Challenge) and initiatives to encourage reading.
  • The Health Information Week web page gives a list of examples of events from previous years – many of these events have been organised by a health library or involve collaboration between the NHS and other local organisations.
  • NHS Employers publish a calendar of national campaigns including awareness days, weeks and months. You could have an area in the library to promote a relevant topic or campaign.

Promoting Mental Health and Well-being

There is a particularly close link between reading, self-help and other health information sources, and mental health and well-being.  You could look into collaborating with your local Recovery College – tutors may welcome access to a health library and your expertise in researching their course, while students may not be aware of everything their public library can offer them.  Public libraries hold Reading for Well-being titles that you can publicise around your Trust and draw to the attention of local clinicians so that they can signpost these to their service users and carers.  It’s also worth thinking about possible connections between Arts for Health and public libraries, for example some public libraries have exhibition space and some may run activities of interest to mental health inpatients once they’ve been discharged.  There is also a growing number of volunteering opportunities in public libraries – this is a controversial area but consider publicising these around your Trust or bringing these to clinicians’ attention for service users who need to build their confidence to get back into work.

Examples and Resources:

  • ‘Reading Well Books on Prescription’ from the Reading Agency
  • South Devon Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust – the library was involved in mood-boosting reading sessions on two wards.
  • Doncaster & Bassetlaw Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust were involved with Doncaster Libraries in developing a Health and Well-being Information Service.
  • Shropshire public libraries’ resources and activities include Bookstart Rhyme Times, Bookstart Story Times and ‘Special Situations’ titles for parents to use with their children in challenging situations such as bereavement or divorce – your local public library is likely to have similar activities and books