The Learning Disabilities Elf welcomes you to the National Elf Service


Health and social care professionals are inundated with new evidence. They can’t keep up to date, yet they are required to for professional development and audit purposes.

Our new National Elf Service tackles this problem in a unique way. Created by professionals for professionals, it summarises high quality new evidence that is relevant to practice using industry-standard appraisal criteria and an accessible and user-friendly front-end.

The service also features open and transparent discussion of the evidence, bringing together clinicians, patients and researchers. And users can track their learning as they engage with the evidence using the service’s curated content and continuing professional development tools.

No other service works in this way. Our mantra is:

  • No bias
  • No misinformation
  • No spin
  • Just what you need!

The National Elf Service aims to improve clinical practice by making it easier for professionals to engage with the best evidence.

First to be launched in the National Elf Service series last month (May 2015) was the Mental Elf. Today we see two new elves added to the National Elf Service: the Social Care Elf and your very own Learning Disabilities Elf.

The volume of published learning disability research continues to grow. Our sister site the Mental Elf suggested from their research that a mental health professional would have to read around 250 research papers per day to keep up to speed with important developments in mental health treatment (Badenoch et al, 2015). The burden may not be as great in the field of learning disabilities, but here we face additional challenges in drawing inferences for practice from studies that are often small scale or exploratory in nature.

These are critical issues for professional standards and the quality of care. There is good evidence that the currency of professionals’ knowledge declines over time, and that this can affect patient care (Badenoch et al, 2011). Fortunately, there is also strong evidence that giving clinicians access to evidence-based, user-friendly summaries improves knowledge and reduces error (Ely 2005).

The Learning Disabilities Elf service is made possible thanks to time and effort from the community of practising professionals. A number of experienced practitioners have voluntarily undertaken to critically appraise the latest research, select significant developments and then provide evidence-based summaries and clinical commentaries on that research.

The new National Elf Service makes all of this hard work accessible on the brand new website and across social media. The Learning Disabilities Elf currently has over 30 expert contributors and around 15,000 regular users, all built up in its pilot phase. The service also currently reaches over 5,000 people on social media.

New membership features

In response to user research, we are now offering a number of additional services, which members can purchase through subscription, to enhance your experience of the core free service. These comprise:

  1. Tailored email alerts to keep you up to date with the latest reliable research
  2. The ability to automatically track your CPD and print certificates that summarise your learning
  3. Online webinars, debates and journal clubs where you can discuss the latest evidence with colleagues and experts, and refine your critical appraisal skills
  4. Reflective practice notes where you can keep track of your learning
  5. Discussion groups to help you connect with experts and colleagues in your field of interest

We are committed to keeping the National Elf Service blog posts free to access, but will charge a small subscription fee for the members’ features, to cover the costs of keeping this expanding service online. Individual and Institutional subscription packages are available. You can find out more about these subscription options by visiting the National Elf Service registration page.

New elves will be joining the National Elf Service soon!

Further Elf websites are currently being piloted and will be launched across 2015-16. These include:


New elves will be marching into the woodland through until the Spring of 2016.

It is evidently impossible for health and social care professionals in most fields to keep up to date with the torrent of high quality evidence now being published. The sheer volume of quality research is, of course, something very much to be celebrated, but if practitioners cannot absorb all of the important new knowledge, then patients do not benefit. Nor is it reasonable to demand that practitioners demonstrate continuous professional development without some way of navigating this sheer volume of research.

The clear need for a viable method of absorbing key research, and applying it to the benefit of patients, is evident from the massive interest that the pilot elves have attracted. It also now looks like the pilots we are running in other specialisms are showing the same enthusiastic response; most importantly from people volunteering to be contributors.

To have initiated a successful professionals community venture like this is really exciting, because it is effectively clinical and care professionals putting their hands up and saying: “This is a really good idea. Let’s all work together to make it happen.”

Subscription options

Individuals and institutions can subscribe to the new National Elf Service membership features. Please visit our registration page to find out more.


Badenoch D, Tomlin A. Coping with the avalanche of evidence-based mental health research. The Mental Elf, 19 May 2015.

Badenoch D & De Brún C. (2011) Where’s the evidence for evidence? Review of abstracts of studies of clinicians’ information seeking behaviour (PDF). Newsletter of the International Society of Evidence-Based Health Care 2011;4:8-13

Ely JW, Osheroff JA, Chambliss MA et al. (2005) Answering physicians’ clinical questions: obstacles and potential solutions. JAMIA, 2005, 12(2), pp217-224.

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John Northfield

After qualifying as a social worker, John worked in community learning disability teams before getting involved in a number of long-stay hospital closure programmes, working to develop individual plans for people moving into their own homes. He worked for BILD, helping to develop the Quality Network and was editorial lead for the NHS electronic library learning disabilities specialist collection. This led him to found the Learning Disabilities Elf site with Andre Tomlin as a way of making the evidence accessible to practitioners in health and social care. Most recently he has worked as part of Mencap's national quality team and also been involved in a number of national website developments, including the General Medical Council's learning disabilities site.

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