Guest post by Cherry Martin, Communications Manager, The Farr Institute of Health Informatics Research, exploring a recent communications campaign in Scotland.

The Scottish Primary Care Information Resource (SPIRE) is a collaboration between the Scottish Government and NHS National Services Scotland, publically announced on 7 March 2017.

Described as an “improved information service”, from May 2017, SPIRE will allow GPs, the NHS in Scotland and researchers to better understand the health and social care needs of the population, providing a safe, secure and adaptable system across Scotland to help analyse the nation’s health and more effectively target resources and treatments.

Information from GP patient records will be securely transferred and processed by NHS National Services Scotland (NSS) – the NHS Scotland organisation responsible for Scotland’s health statistics.

The aim of SPIRE is to provide a single national system to extract data from General Practice clinical IT systems in Scotland. SPIRE will analyse and report on the data extracted for specific and approved purposes whilst ensuring the highest standards of patient confidentiality and privacy are maintained. However, it is not a national database - researchers will be able to request tailored extracts of data which, once approved, can be linked to other datasets for specific studies.

Communicating about SPIRE

With the support of a PR agency, NHS National Services Scotland led the public launch of SPIRE. A four-week long campaign has involved a new website (www.spire.scot) print, radio and digital advertising, along with social media activity on Twitter. Posters were distributed across Scottish communities for display in public health and care settings and GP practices received a toolkit of resources and templates in the form of text messages, letters, social media posts, newsletter and website articles which could be used to inform local patients of SPIRE.

Accessibility was very well addressed with information leaflets and the opt-out form being made available in foreign language, Easy Read and British Sign Language versions. A short video for people with learning disabilities has also been produced.

“Change for the better” was a key message, focussing public attention on improvements and changes in order to highlight the benefits of SPIRE and how it will enhance the treatments and care received by the people of Scotland. The campaign also underlined the importance of keeping patient information safe and secure, easing potential anxieties by clearly describing who will have access to patient data through SPIRE and why. Another strong message that came through from the campaign was that of choice; clearly outlining how patients can opt-out and the timelines for doing so.

There were very few mentions of SPIRE in the news media following the announcement, perhaps suggesting that information has been trickling into Scottish communities. Crucially, the implementation of what is clearly a well-considered communications campaign will largely lie with GP practices themselves, already overstretched on resources. Patients will expect to hear about changes to how their GP patient records are used from their practice, and only time will tell if dissemination from NHS Scotland-to-GP practice-to patient has been effective.

Find out more

A range of professional and patient information resources about SPIRE can be found on the website at www.spire.scot with videos in support of SPIRE from the British Medical Association and Royal College of General Practitioners at www.spire.scot/resources.

An NHS Inform phone line has been set up for members of the public with questions (0800 22 44 88 7 days a week, 8am – 10pm) and email enquiries can be directed to nss.spire@nhs.net.

You can also follow SPIRE on Twitter: @SPIREScotland