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Why use literature reviews in health and social care?
Why use literature reviews in health and social care?

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4.1 Policy focus: Jean’s literature review

Jean’s literature review was published in 2005 and was for a Scottish project. When it was produced, it fed into the most substantial review of the social work profession since the late 1960s: Changing Lives, the report of the 21st Century Social Work Review [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] (Scottish Executive, 2006). If you are interested in social work with older people, you can use the hyperlinks embedded in the case study text to learn more about Jean’s literature review and the project it was part of, to get ‘the big picture’. Even though it was produced in 2006, its effects are still present in Scotland. Jean’s literature review was one part of the process that allowed policy makers to frame new policies about working with older people at that time.

Jean reflects on the purpose of her literature review.

Re-reading this report 14 years later, it is inevitably beginning to show its age. Nevertheless, some of our review’s conclusions still seem to me to have resonance today, including its stress on the views and wishes of older people, on ethical social work practice, on the importance of multidisciplinary working and the distinctive mix of skills and expertise that social workers bring to situations of uncertainty, risk and conflict.

This literature review was conceived and planned for a very specific purpose: to inform a nationwide review of policy and practice. In writing it, we were mindful that it sat besides, and had to be cross-referenced against, other commissioned work, as well as the work of service user and carer groups and discussions with social workers and their employers to come to its conclusions. As authors we were therefore very aware that our literature review was to be used to bring about change, and that we were charged from the start to identify the implications of our findings for the future development of the profession. The strength of the 21st Century Review’s conclusions came from the mass of evidence, discussions and debates it generated, rather than any single evidence source.

(Kerr et al., 2015)

Jean’s last point is no doubt important; if a substantial policy shift is implied, then the evidence to support it has to be substantial and come in different forms. In the context of a national shift in policy, no single literature review, even though it collates many sources of information and evidence, is likely to be enough. However, most policy change is not national, it is likely to be focused in geographical boundaries or in terms of particular service terms.