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Thursday, November 10, 2005

NHS England extend BioMed Central membership to 2008

NHS England extend BioMed Central membership to 2008

BioMed Central an "open access publisher" has today announced that the agreement they have with NHS England has been renewed until March 2008.

The open access publishing model means that any published articles can be accessed in full text by anyone with internet access and the charges which would have been made for subscription to the journal are transferred to a charge for anyone submitting a paper for publication. Today's agreement means that there are no charges to individuals employed by the NHS for another 3 years.

It is interesting to take a look at the articles which have been published by NHS England staff over the last few years with BioMed Central journals. It shows that during 1999 there was only one, in 2000 there were four, and in subsequent years significantly more (2001 = 12, 2002 = 28, 2003 = 29, 2004 = 63 & during 2005 so far = 73), it is therefore likely that the signing of a deal between NHS England and BioMed Central in 2003 significantly increased the amount of publicly funded research in the NHS which was placed into the public domain.

A similar agreement is in place to enable researchers in HEFCE funded institutions to submit their papers to BioMed Central without fees thanks to an agreement with JISC - it is not possible to do a similar count for these publications as each university is listed separately on the web site. I understand that the JISC agreement expires in June 2006 and that discussions are currently underway about the possibility of extending this.

These activities illustrate a wider move towards the open access publishing model discussed by the House of Commons Science & Technology Select Committee's report 'Scientific Publications: Free for all, July 2004' and the recent announcement by the Welcome Trust and a consultation by Research Councils UK on ways to make research publications more widely available.

A slightly different model described as "quasi open access" has also been developed and I came across it the other day when getting a paper from the International Journal of Nursing Education Scholarship. This approach from The Berkeley Electronic Press as their response to the "Scholarly Communication Crisis" and enables users to download the full text - and then the publisher sends an email to hassle the institutional librarian to take out a subscription.

These are encouraging signs in a long running debate about how to make research, particularly that which is publicly funded, available to all, which has yet to reach it's final stages. The likely development of institutional repositories should stop a university for example, having to pay a subscription to a publisher to be able to read the work created by their own staff. The general direction of travel is towards a more open society in which patients and clients have the same level of access to knowledge sources as the "experts", and this should lead to a paradigm shift in which the professionals cease to be the gatekeepers to knowledge and become guides and interpreters helping their patients and client to understand the published literature and discuss, on a more equal footing, the significance for them and their own health.

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