National Elf Service includes evidence to support commissioning decisions


We are delighted to announce that the Commissioning Elf has today become part of the National Elf Service website. (Read the PDF press release here). Led by Caroline De Brún, this elf will help you keep up to date with new evidence to support commissioning decisions.

The Commissioning Elf is an evidence-based information source for health and social care professionals working in the area of commissioning and the provision of care services.

Evidence to support commissioning decisions comes from a range of sources, not just clinical journals, but research from other sectors including the third sector, commercial, and education. It may not follow a structure that can easily be critically appraised, and therefore, it is important to have expert interpretation. This is what writers for the Commissioning Elf provide; readable summaries of important new evidence that support commissioners to improve their practice.

The Commissioning Elf covers a wide range of topics including:

  • Competition
  • Cost effectiveness
  • Evaluation and impact assessment
  • Integration
  • Mental health commissioning
  • Needs assessment
  • Outcomes based commissioning
  • Partnership working
  • Payment mechanisms
  • Procurement
  • Resource allocation
  • Service reconfiguration
  • Service review and improvement
  • Specialised commissioning
  • Strategy development and planning
  • Variation

Why we need the National Elf Service

We know from a range of studies that health and social care professionals need evidence more often than they get it and, as a result, the currency of their knowledge degrades over time.

We also know that giving clinicians access to evidence reduces errors and improves outcomes. The problem is that research papers are inaccessible to the majority of professionals, who don’t have the time or skills to appraise them and act upon their findings
– André Tomlin, Founder

It is this opportunity that the National Elf Service addresses: supporting evidence-based practice by helping people to keep up with current best evidence in the limited time they have available.

The website was started in 2011 by Oxford University spin-out company Minervation ( It’s a co-produced project involving hundreds of professionals and service users and it’s always stood out from the crowd.

The National Elf Service is coproduced by hundreds of experts across many fields. It's led by Minervation.

The National Elf Service is coproduced by hundreds of experts across many fields.

How it works

Accessibility, usability and reliability are the key to providing effective digital health information resources. That’s always been our key driver as we’ve built the elf websites.
– Douglas Badenoch, Founder

Starting in the areas of Mental Health and Learning Disabilities, the National Elf Service’s dedicated readership has doubled every year, now with over 50,000 Twitter followers. The website now has more than 250 experts writing blogs, published every week day, which summarise the latest reliable research in short and easy to read articles.

The bloggers critically appraise the research they write about and provide a summary of strengths and limitations, alongside a clinical commentary that puts the evidence into context for busy professionals.

Elf blogs highlight the strengths and weaknesses of the evidence they summarise.

Elf blogs highlight the strengths and weaknesses of the evidence they summarise.

Personalised services to help professionals use evidence in practice

The new National Elf Service now also offers a number of additional personalised services, which individuals or institutions can purchase through subscription, to enhance their experience of the core free service:

  1. Tailored email alerts to keep users up to date with the latest reliable research
  2. The ability to automatically track Continuous Professional Development and print certificates that summarise a user’s learning
  3. Online journal clubs and expert discussions where members can interact to refine their critical appraisal skills
  4. Reflective practice notes where subscribers can keep track of their learning
  5. A networking function to help users connect with experts and colleagues in their field of interest

Supporting professionals to keep up to date with complex research is about so much more than just giving them access to the papers. The whole process needs to be enjoyable and engaging if people are to truly understand the evidence and the impact that it might have on their practice.

We’ve created a fun and approachable brand, which breaks down the barriers to evidence-based research that many professional groups have previously struggled to overcome. Our new subscription features use gamification techniques to make the whole experience pleasurable rather than stressful. We’re incentivizing people to learn about new evidence, discuss it with colleagues and experts, and track this learning so that it can be automatically added to their CPD [continuing professional development] file.
– André Tomlin

Making evidence-based practice a reality

The National Elf Service is a new type of disruptive digital health resource. It will help make evidence-based practice a reality by:

  • Providing quick access to relevant and reliable new evidence
  • Democratising the debate around research
  • Equipping professionals with the skills they need to use research in practice
  • Providing the tools professionals need to track their learning and contribute to their CPD
  • Providing institutions with the analytics they need to measure the performance of researchers

Sign up now

The National Elf Service website offers personalised features for subscribers. There are many ways to sign up:

  1. Institutional subscription (prices available on request). Contact us to discuss your requirements and make big savings on a bulk subscription for your staff.
  2. Individual monthly subscription (£10 per month)
  3. Individual annual subscription (£60 per year)
  4. Individual 3-year subscription (£120 for 3 years)
  5. Individual free trial (2 weeks free access to full membership features)
Register now for your free trial at

Register now for your free trial at

Find out more

For further information, interviews and details of institutional subscriptions, please contact:

André Tomlin, Managing Director, Minervation Ltd and the National Elf Service

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Andre Tomlin

André Tomlin is an Information Scientist with 20 years experience working in evidence-based healthcare. He's worked in the NHS, for Oxford University and since 2002 as Managing Director of Minervation Ltd, a consultancy company who do clever digital stuff for charities, universities and the public sector. Most recently André has been the driving force behind the Mental Elf and the National Elf Service; an innovative digital platform that helps professionals keep up to date with simple, clear and engaging summaries of evidence-based research. André is a Trustee at the Centre for Mental Health and an Honorary Research Fellow at University College London Division of Psychiatry. He lives in Bristol, surrounded by dogs, elflings and lots of woodland!

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Caroline De Brún

Caroline De Brún

Caroline has been a medical librarian in a variety of NHS and academic roles since 1999, working in academic, primary and secondary care settings, service improvement, knowledge management, and on several high profile national projects. She has a PhD in Computing and currently develops resources to support evidence-based cost and quality, including QIPP @lert, a blog highlighting key reports from health care and other sectors related to service improvement and QIPP (Quality, Innovation, Productivity, Prevention). She also delivers training and resources to support evidence identification and appraisal for cost, quality, service improvement, and leadership. She is co-author of the Searching Skills Toolkit, which aims to support health professionals' searching for best quality clinical and non-clinical evidence. Her research interests are health management, commissioning, public health, consumer health information literacy, and knowledge management. She currently works as a Knowledge and Evidence Specialist for Public Health England, and works on the Commissioning Elf in her spare time.

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