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Milestones, mistletoe and whine


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Saturday, 11 December 2010

Milestones, mistletoe and whine

This is the time of year for mistletoe and whine, a glorious opportunity to indulge our passion for moaning. It is also a traditional time to reflect on the momentous, moving and rib-tickling events of the past 12 months, but as every publication on earth will be churning out such drivel until the middle of January, let’s talk about something else.

NHS Networks has made a lot of progress in recent months in its mission to help the NHS share intelligence and work together on solving problems. It’s not a talking shop, though talking is important, but a virtual industrial park for manufacturing ideas and making things happen.

In February we completed a major overhaul of the website to make it easier for new networks to get started and for existing ones to stay in touch with their members and form new connections.

Starting a network online is remarkably easy. It takes minutes to create a profile and set up basic web pages. There is also a simple tool available for existing networks to import the names and contact details of all their members without having to register everyone individually.

We provide profile pages for well established networks that already have their own sites. This is simply so you can find them and read about what they do. Links are provided to third party sites if they are not hosted on NHS Networks.

A big piece of work has been done to add email alerts. These allow updates to find you rather than requiring users to keep returning to the site to see what’s changed. Alerts are generated every time a new document, news story or event is posted on a network’s pages or when someone posts a comment in a discussion forum.

Users of social networking sites like Facebook and LinkedIn will be familiar with this mechanism, but also with its potential to be irritating. All registered users have a settings page, which enables them to select what they do and don’t receive, including email alerts. We are working on improvements to the system to allow users to choose the frequency of alerts too.

Another milestone this year was the launch last month of Commissioning Zone, a portal to make it easier for people to find case studies, tools, data and other practical resources to improve NHS commissioning.

Our goal in 2011 is to find better ways to tap the unpublished information – the knowledge and expertise in the heads of individuals throughout the NHS. We call this the people portal. We will be introducing personal profiles to enable individuals to connect with one another based on shared interests or the need to solve common problems. Technology won’t replace these interactions but it can enable and simplify them.

We are always grateful for your suggestions about how to improve the service and we have people on hand able to offer advice on support if you get stuck.

We get questions from time to time about the sustainability of NHS Networks in these turbulent times. Nothing is certain, but we remain confident. NHS Networks is hosted and supported by Primary Care Commissioning which covers running costs and has made a substantial investment in the development of the online hub through the social enterprise PCC CIC.

Since February registered users of NHS Networks have doubled to nearly 20,000. There are 567 networks on the site, including some very active and fast-growing commissioning networks and a number of networks supporting the QIPP programme.

Traffic to the website has also been climbing and is now running at 110,000 page views a month.

The numbers tell us that the site is being used. Your feedback, most of it overwhelmingly positive, tells us it is also useful.