Objectives: This paper explores the use of evidence, focusing on economic evidence in particular, in the development of local health policies through an in-depth study of Health Improvement Programmes (HImPs) in England.
Methods: A questionnaire was sent to the person responsible for coordinating the development of the HImP in each of the 102 English health authorities. In addition, semi-structured interviews were conducted with 10 HImP leaders, and a random sample of 26 HImP documents was reviewed using a standard pro forma.
Results: Of the 102 mail questionnaires sent out, 68 (67%) were returned. It was found that those developing HImPs had multiple objectives, only some of which (e.g., efficiency in healthcare provision) would necessarily require evidence. Where evidence was used, this was a mixture of internal (experiential) and external (empirical) evidence, with the balance (66%) being in favor of the latter. Government reports and guidance from the National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE), were the main sources of external evidence, rather than published papers. Key barriers to the use of economic evidence were lack of time and availability and the difficulties in synthesizing information at the local level.
Conclusions: Based on responses to our survey, the main ways of increasing the use of evidence in the development of local health policies in England are to produce more evidence-based national guidance and to produce accessible summaries of the available literature for local decision makers.