News of the NHS England renewal comes at a key time for open access in the UK. In a study "How accessible is NHS-funded research to the general public and to the NHS's own researchers?" it was found that less than 30% of NHS-funded resulting research articles are accessible in full text to the general public and only 40% are immediately accessible to NHS staff at the hospital studied.1 In the House of Commons Science & Technology Select Committee's report 'Scientific Publications: Free for all2', the Committee concludes that changes in scientific publishing are "necessary as a matter of urgency" and everyone should have free, open access to UK research findings. They urge the UK Government and funding organisations to "act as a proponent for change" and "lead by example". NHS England's decision, to fund open access publication in BioMed Central's journals for all NHS England staff for a further two years, provides critical support for the growth of open access in the UK.
NHS England first signed up for BioMed Central membership in April 2003, and since then there has been a huge increase in support and usage from researchers in NHS England. Submissions to BioMed Central's journals by NHS staff so far in 2005 are almost six times the number submitted in 2003. Between 2004 and 2005 (to date), publication in BioMed Central's journals by NHS staff increased by 51%. Downloads of BioMed Central journal articles by the NHS England community have increased five-fold in the same time period. These results demonstrate that the NHS England membership has had a huge impact on the awareness of open access publishing in this short time period.
Founded in 1948, the National Health Service is the largest health organisation in Europe. As well as providing free healthcare for the British public, the NHS also has a commitment to invest in developing future treatments and expanding medical knowledge. Ben Toth, Programme Director, National Library for Health, explains why NHS England made the decision to renew:
"The principal and practice of open access is good for the 1.4 million staff and 56 million customers of the NHS in England. It promotes the full disclosure of the results of clinical trials and promotes the free flow of clinical research. It also provides excellent value for money."
NHS England has also renewed its subscription to images.MD, the online encyclopedia of medical images, following praise from users of the image database service, and all NHS England staff will continue to have access to the entire content of images.MD, until March 2008. images.MD compiles over 50,000 high-quality images spanning all of internal medicine, all derived from Current Medicine's renowned series of illustrated atlases. Each image is accompanied by detailed and informative text written by over 2,000 contributing experts.
(1) How accessible is NHS-funded research to the general public and to the NHS's own researchers?, Matthew Cockerill, February 2004 Available at: http://www.
(2) House of Commons Science & Technology Select Committee's report 'Scientific Publications: Free for all, July 2004 Available at: http://www.