Information is Beautiful

We’ve just delivered on a promise to make a map of health and support services in London for people with hepatitis C and a history of using drugs for a client.

Why was it necessary? Nobody had done it before, so the information just didn’t exist in one place. To be honest, much of it still doesn’t; this is a work in progress. The information is hard to find. The relationships between London’s health bodies is notoriously complex, and people with hepatitis C can find the system confusing and disjointed.

And it’s not just the patients. GPs have been known to refer people to a hospital with no hepatitis C service, only for them to be seen in a general gastro clinic by a junior doctor and told – wrongly – that they’re not suitable for treatment.

The aim is that people looking for information about where to get a test, find a needle exchange or a support group will be able to see at a glance where their nearest resources are. People responsible for planning and commissioning services will be able to see where the gaps are. Everyone will be able to see a clear treatment and care pathway.

How did the project go? We spent months asking people to send us information about their local area, or put us in touch with someone who could. Some people sent us great resources, but most didn’t because people are busy.

So we took the information we had and plotted it on 4 maps of London – one for each hepatitis C treatment network. There were a lot of gaps, and I was worried.

But we printed the maps and took them to the LJWG conference and put them up on the wall. And then the magic happened. People could see the information gaps, they could see where we’d made assumptions or mistakes. The maps transformed from a chore on a to-do list into something tangible they could see the purpose of. One delegate pointed to his area and said, ‘Oh that’s the bit I was meant to send you a list of needle exchanges for, isn’t it?!’

By mapping what we had, by making a start, however imperfect, people could see how they could help to make it better. And they could see how it could benefit patients and service users and commissioners and hepatologists and key workers and addiction psychiatrists and nurse specialists, and that we could all build it together and make something really useful.