The UK Council for Health Informatics Professions is being set up by the BCS, the NHS Information Authority, the UK Institute for Health Informatics, and Assist, an NHS IT staff body. It will be launched at the BCS Health Informatics Committee's annual conference later this month.
"There is a growing consensus that there is a need to develop health informatics as an independent profession," says the council's first president, Glyn Hayes, who chairs the BCS Health Informatics Committee and has been both a doctor and a supplier of IT to the NHS.
"IT in the NHS used to be about admin and management, but now it is about direct patient care. Good informatics can improve patient care, but if we don't do informatics well, we kill people.
"General practice is very heavily computerised now, and if the IT is wrong it will give the wrong information and advice. There is a challenge to develop systems that are rigorous in safety-critical terms. These issues demand a way of ensuring that health informatics staff have appropriate qualifications and experience - so there is a need for a professional registration body.
"It is also recognised that health informaticians are often undervalued, inappropriately managed and poorly paid. Establishing good professional standards will help improve this situation. IT people will have the opportunity to gain professional status and all that goes with it in terms of credibility and the value placed on them."
The council covers IT staff; information and knowledge management staff; those who develop or manage clinical record systems and the patient data they hold; staff who handle health records and code data; and academic staff concerned with health informatics and related research.
The council will start by assessing the qualifications, codes of conduct and standards of employer, professional and academic bodies. Its main job will be to hold a register of accredited health informaticians.
Hayes describes the council as being the equivalent of the General Medical Council for doctors. "It is not part of the NHS, it is an independent professional body, and with the support of the BCS and NHS organisations it will have a lot of credibility," he says.
"Initially registration will be voluntary, although it is expected that in the future the NHS will expect anyone working in health informatics to have obtained registration. It is envisaged that eventually statutory registration will be needed to protect the needs of patients."
Details of the BCS Health Informatics Committee conference in Harrogate from 24-26 March are at www.health-informatics.org
This was first published in March 2003