This report summarises the project which Health Education England undertook in partnership with the British Library in 2021 - 2022 to pilot a shared repository for the NHS. Key learning and recommendations are shared in addition to anticipated next steps.

The potential value of shared repositories in the NHS

Many NHS organisations maintain repositories of research carried out by their staff. Some of these focus purely on articles submitted for publication in academic journals, others also include ‘practitioner research’ and other ‘grey literature’, such as quality improvement reports, policy documents, case studies and conference posters.

The repositories, which typically use more sophisticated data structures and indexing than intranets or SharePoint, are often managed and maintained by knowledge and library service (KLS) teams.

We know from HEE-commissioned research into the knowledge and evidence needs of healthcare staff, that staff often regard locally derived ‘grey literature’ as important as research published in academic journals in informing decision-making and practice. It is however typically far less easily discoverable.

Single organisation NHS repositories go some way to addressing this problem. Shared NHS repositories which include content from several organisations, potentially offer even greater scope for discovery and sharing locally-generated knowledge.

Further benefits of shared repositories include the ability for organisations to use standardised data structures and indexing, and reduced total costs associated with hosting and maintaining repositories and integrating them into search engines.

HEE’s interest in repositories

HEE’s Knowledge for Healthcare vision is that ‘NHS bodies, their staff, learners, patients and the public use the right knowledge and evidence, at the right time, in the right place, enabling high quality decision-making, learning, research and innovation, to achieve excellent healthcare and health improvement’.

To support delivery of this vision, HEE working with NHS organisations and KLS teams to optimise access to digital knowledge resources and mobilise evidence in practice.  Core guiding principles include collaborative working to achieve effectiveness and efficiency, exploiting technology, and ‘digital by default’.

Developing a coherent approach to the development of repositories to optimise discoverability of content’ is one of the interventions set out in the strategy.

The opportunity to work in partnership with the British Library

The British Library (BL) launched its pilot Shared Research Repository for Cultural and Heritage Organisations in November 2019. This makes the research produced by several national museums, discoverable in one place.  The repository uses open source software called Samvera Hyku, delivered via a contract with the London-based academic publisher, Ubiquity Press.

In summer 2020, the BL team approached HEE with a proposal to pilot a version of the repository with NHS organisations. Several NHS Trusts had contacted them directly to ask if this might be a possibility.

 HEE was at the time undertaking a large programme of work to procure and implement a national library discovery system for the NHS in England, the ability to integrate structured repositories as search targets having been included in the specification for this.

Whilst HEE was not in a position to directly procure still less manage a shared NHS repository, we were interested in the proposition, especially given BL’s experience and expertise in this area, and potentially able to contribute towards the cost of a BL-hosted pilot to develop and evaluate a shared NHS repository.

BL advised that they would charge £3,150 per NHS organisation p.a. to cover costs. This is directly comparable to the amount NHS organisations currently pay to commercial suppliers for single organisation repositories, so does not present a direct saving, but it was proposed that the potential cost benefits and economies associated with a shared repository be evaluated as part of the pilot.

Following exploration of the idea and consultation with stakeholders – including the Community of Practice HEE had established for KLS staff interested and involved in the management of repositories and open access resources – it was agreed to proceed with a 12-month pilot. 

Under procurement rules, BL had had to re-tender for a software supplier during 2021 but anticipated that the pilot could start in January 2021 and that the platform would be ready for use by NHS organisations from April 2021.

Page last reviewed: 30 September 2022