Our Evidence Directorate are about to launch a new approach to the way they take on work. Director Safia Qureshi explains her vision for the directorate – and why evidence should lie at the heart of improvement.

Have you ever stopped to wonder how many pieces of advice or guidance, reviews, reports, statements or strategies Healthcare Improvement Scotland has published over the years? It’s the sort of question you might ask yourself if you were coming along for a job interview, which is exactly where I was around about fifteen months ago, gearing up for round one of interviews for the role of Director of Evidence.

The answer is: a lot! Search our website and there’s over 1000 items to choose from, published over the last 10 years. And that doesn’t include the work of the Scottish Antimicrobial Prescribing Group (SAPG), the Scottish Intercollegiate Guidelines Network (SIGN) or the Scottish Medicines Consortium (SMC) which sits on separate sites. Adding these publications in takes our total to well over 2600 – with around 1560 pieces of medicines advice from SMC alone –  all of it robust and trusted advice.

That’s a lot of work, covering an enormous range of subjects. How did we decide what to do? How should we decide what to do? Can we make better use of our resources? How do we make best use of our resources to provide the advice and guidance that will best help to shape the decisions made by health and social care organisations as they work to resolve the issues facing the NHS in Scotland?

Building on our strengths

I didn’t get asked about publication numbers at my interview – it’s all a bit of a haze now – but we did talk about the role of Healthcare Improvement Scotland in making sure evidence is at the heart of decision making.  As Angela Timoney, the Chair of SIGN, likes to remind us in these days of disparaging experts: “evidence matters – our challenge is to ensure we address the most important issues”.

This is the challenge I’ve set myself – and the teams across our Evidence Directorate: to put evidence at the heart of decision making. There’s been some great work from all the teams in the directorate- SAPG, SIGN, SMC, Scottish Health Technologies Group (SHTG), Standards & Indicators and the Data Measurement and Business Intelligence team (DMBI). Now we’re looking to build on their strengths to ensure we have something even better to offer.

A force for improvement

At present, each team has its own approach to topic selection and prioritisation of work. In practice that means each sets its own timetable for taking on new work, each has its own selection criteria and each its own selection committee. All of these individual approaches are perfectly valid – this is the Evidence Directorate after all, we think very carefully about the right way to do things. But by harnessing all these parts into a whole directorate approach that aligns stakeholders’ needs with our wide range of skills and expertise, we can think strategically about our work programme and maximise the impact of our work. This way, I think we can provide a real force for improvement, something that will make a real difference to NHSScotland.

More than the sum of our parts

With that in mind, from 17 September we will be thinking about our work programme in a completely new way. We will start our move towards a coordinated work programme that aligns more clearly with national and organisational priorities. One multidisciplinary committee will use one process and one set of criteria to agree a coordinated work programme for SIGN, SHTG and Standards & Indicators, with more explicit alignment and support from DMBI, SAPG and SMC. This will help us to use the resources of our directorate in a way that is more responsive to the questions and problems posed by stakeholders. We think it will allow us to provide a more coordinated and flexible response that can call on any or all of the skills and outputs across the directorate. At the same time we’re going to raise the profile of the Evidence Directorate in its own right, as more than a collection of the sum of its parts.

Of course, given the consideration, development and production time of our advice and guidance, it will take a while for our new approach to fully kick in. We’re still committed to delivering all of our existing programme of work, but it’s very exciting to be taking the first steps down a new road.

Safia Qureshi is Director of Evidence for Healthcare Improvement Scotland. Follow her on Twitter @qureshisafia1

More information

Find out more about the new approach