Information support roles

Doctor and patient discussing informationSupporting information giving

Information is often needed at difficult times: when illness is diagnosed, or decisions have to be made, and in consequence, service users may need time and support to understand and make use of information.  There are many situations where service users and health workers give, receive and share information as they work in partnership to decide the best way forward for that individual service user. Every health worker, working within the responsibilities of their job, can foster this partnership.

Many people working in or with the NHS have jobs which involve helping service users to find or use health information. Finding, sharing or discussing health information may be a major or minor part of their daily working life, and may or may not be formally part of their job description. Information support could be providing health information from printed or other sources (eg leaflets) or directly from clinical expertise.

There are also many opportunities and responsibilities to support individuals to discuss and use the information. Service users are also the source of valuable information for the clinician (for example about his/her experiences, preferences and feelings) and an important element of an information support role may be to motivate, engage and empower the service user to be a genuine partner in the process, so that all relevant information can be pooled.[1]

In some health information situations, expert knowledge and skills around the content of the information will be important. However, in many other situations this will not be the case. It is necessary for all those with an information support role to ensure that any health information they give or point service users to is accurate, but information itself is not necessarily the only factor to influence health decisions.

Asking questions, and then finding and using information to answer them are life-skills anyone can develop and improve. However, everyone concerned should have a clear understanding of the responsibilities and limits of their information support role.[2]

Information support roles

Librarian helping a group of childrenA number of organisations have developed formal information support roles, for example, health information centres and libraries and in NHS Direct. These have a wide range of skills and competencies, including sourcing information, dealing with enquiries, quality assurance, increasing service capacity, contributing to essential service management such as stock ordering and data collection, and by enabling other staff to undertake development or outreach work.

There is no formal information support role description. However, the Information Support Roles Framework published in Scotland in 2009 outlines the skills and capabilities needed for this type of role. Skills for Health has also developed competencies for information support and giving.

Macmillan Cancer Support is developing the Support Roles at their Information and Support services, including piloting a new role. To find out more click here.

Health Trainers

The role of ‘Health Trainer’ was first outlined in the 2004 White paper ‘Choosing Health’.  From the start they were intended to offer ‘support from next door’ rather than ‘advice from on high’  and their aim was to target ‘hard to reach’ and disadvantaged groups; increase healthy behaviour and uptake of preventative services; provide opportunities for people from disadvantaged backgrounds to gain skills and employment and reduce health inequalities.

Part of the role of health trainers involves supporting information giving – raising awareness of the benefits of good health and to giving practical support to help people improve their knowledge, skills and confidence in improving their lifestyles. Health Trainers are now based in GP practices working as part of primary care teams, in pharmacies, within communities and in prisons.

Top Tips

  1. Thumbs-upFocus on the job people do, not the pay status: volunteers doing the same job as staff need the same level of training and support
  2. Competencies are key to good team recruitment and development, but implementation within existing teams will need careful change management.
Acknowledgement: Mig Muller, Macmillan Information & Support
Page last updated: 29/11/12


[1] Dr Ann Wales. Information Support Roles; Enabling partnerships to find, use and share information for health and healthcare decisions. NHS Education for Scotland 2009