October 2013: Karen O’Rourke, Patient Information Centre Co-ordinator, Northumberland, Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust

I’m passionate about patients and carers being able to access high quality, reliable information about services, conditions and treatments so that they can make decisions about their own healthcare. I’m fortunate to be part of a Trust which shares this vision. Our Chief Executive Dr Gillian Fairfield is extremely supportive and this has enabled the Trust to produce a wide range of patient and carer resources.


Northumberland, Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust provides a wide range of mental health, learning disability and neuro-rehabilitation services to 1.4 million people in the North East of England. It is one of the largest mental health and disability organisations in the country and employs over 6,000 staff who operate from over 100 sites. It provides a range of comprehensive services including some regional and national specialist services.

In 1993 I started work at the local mental health Trust. I worked in the Chief Executives Office, Human Resources and Complaints Department before finding my true vocation in 1996 as an Information Officer at a newly established Patient Information Centre. It was exciting to be part of a fledgling service, and there was a lot to learn (there still is). Looking back information wasn’t high on the agenda but it’s fantastic to see how the service has matured and how information is now recognised as a ‘must have’ service.

We have a small dedicated team which includes three Information Officers (one part-time), and a part-time Assistant who has a learning disability and helps with mail outs and routine tasks. A Patient Advice and Liaison Officer also shares our office on a part-time basis, and this helps facilitate information sharing. The Trust has 79 in-patient wards, each in-patient ward has an Information Volunteer, this is a member of staff who has the responsibility for ensuring that a core set of patient and carer resources are displayed on the ward.

One of our achievements was gaining the Information Standard Accreditation in January 2011. The Patient Information Centre provides a centralised function for the production of all patient and carer information across the Trust. We now have over 600 leaflets through this process and have also developed Welcome Packs and a Carers Pack. In addition this year we have been working on developing Community Carers Packs. This information is for carers of service users in the community, which includes resources such as the Trusts Carers Charter, Commonsense Confidentiality and Getting to know you leaflets. We have also been developing My Care Packs, a patient held folder which contains a care plan, a personal progress sheet and a list of resources which patients can choose from to personalise their pack.

All of the patient and carer information which we produce is available on our website, at www.ntw.nhs.uk The website also contains other useful information such as: local directories for mental health, ethnic minorities and carers; searchable database of health information in other languages; Mental Health Act information leaflets and videos; and easy read health information. One of the most popular resources which we produce is a series of 23 mental health self-help guides www.ntw.nhs.uk/pic/selfhelp We will soon be offering a service which allows organisations to re-brand and print the guides. For the past four consecutive years the self help guides been recognised at the British Medical Association Patient Information Awards.

  • 2010 – Prisoner Stress and Anxiety, Commended
  • 2011 – Sleeping Problems, Highly Commended
  • 2012 – Obsessions and Compulsions, Highly Commended
  • 2013 – Anxiety, Commended

I have been a PIF member since 2007 and it has been invaluable in my work. The weekly newsletter is a fantastic way to network, share information and keep up-to-date. Over the years I’ve attended many PIF conferences and have always found them to be an excellent networking opportunity even bumping into colleagues from other Trusts on the train journey.