Search help

Whether you’re getting started, want to know more about our search, or having trouble, you should find what you need here. If you need further support, call us on 0845 300 6016 or use our to email us.


  • Browsing versus searching

    There are two options for finding the information you need: browse or search. To browse for information using pre-set subject classifications, click on the "Browse by subject" link under the search box on any page on the website. This will take you to a subject index where you can drill down until you find a term that describes what you want to find. When you click on the subject term, the system uses a "taxonomy" to search not only for that term, but also for broader, narrower, and related terms, and returns results according to how many times the term and its related terms are found in a document (as well as where they are found in the document). This improves the "aboutness" of your results, hopefully giving you more relevant documents than just searching for keywords. It will also allow you to browse and search on broader, narrower, and related terms from your results page if you don't receive the results you desire. However, there is a minimum level of "aboutness" that is required for a document to come up in the results, so not all documents containing that term will appear in the results. If you want all documents listing a term, no matter how relevant, you should enter your terms in the search box instead.

    If you enter terms in the search box, the system will search for instances of those terms in the documents, and rank them by the number of instances of those terms as well as where they occur in the documents. It will also search a list of related terms for instances of your search terms and offer those as alternative searches in the right-hand bar, but it will not establish the relationships (broader, narrower, etc.) between terms unless you have entered a term or phrase that is also in the subject index. You should use the search box if you want to find a term that is not in the subject index, or if you want to find more information than the browsable subject index gives you.

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    Advanced search options

    Advanced search options are available by clicking on the "Edit search options" link under the search box at the top of every page. This menu allows you to set defaults for how many results are displayed on your results page as well as your default search sources (NHS IC only or NHS IC plus other health and social care websites). These defaults will last for a single browser session (until you close your browser). In addition, this page will allow you to do an AND Boolean search (terms entered after "all these words"), phrase searching, Boolean OR searching, and Boolean NOT searching (terms entered after "any of these unwanted words").

    From within the search box itself, you can also do phrase searching (by putting quotation marks (") around the phrase you wish to search. You can use an asterisk (*) to do a wildcard search (child* will catch childhood, children, etc.). You can also combine phrase and wildcard searching as follows: "child * data" will find child health data, child benefit data, etc. You can exclude terms from search by using a minus sign (-) immediately before a term to exclude any content results containing this word. For instance, child* data -obesity -mortality.

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    Using filters

    Once you have searched using either the search box or the browse by subject page, you can narrow your results by date, geography, people and populations, settings, website, information type, and file format by using the filters on the left-hand menu. You can also sort your results by date by clicking on "Date" at the top of the results listing.

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    Using broader, narrower, and related terms

    If you do not get the results you are looking for, you can use the menu on the right-hand side of the results page to do a new search using either a broader term than the one you originally used, a narrower term to get more focussed results, or a related term. Simply click on the desired term to do a new search.

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    What sources are being searched?

    Sites owned, managed, or sponsored by us and sites of organisations with a national or regional remit in relation to health and/or social care. This can include professional associations and charities, and may be expanded in future to include commercial sites.

    We do not include purely public information (which can be found at NHS Choices) or clinical and non-clinical evidence (which is the remit of NHS Evidence), although we have included parts of the latter site where they relate to statistics and statistical guidance. We have not included non-English-language websites.

    View the current list of sites we index.

    Note that by default all NHS IC and health and social care websites are searched. If you wish to narrow your search to NHS IC websites only, you have an option to do this on the search results page, or to set your default search to NHS IC websites only using the Edit search options page linked under the search box on every page.

    A key part of developing our search is meeting your requirements, so please use the feedback form at the bottom of each search results page to give us your recommendations for new sites to index or terms you would like to see added to the subject index, as well as any issues with functionality.

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    Saving searches

    If you have a My IC login, you can save the results of a search by clicking on the Save search link at the top of the results listing. You will be prompted to name your search, and it will appear on your My IC home page. From there, you can click to rerun the search whenever you need to.

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    Contributing to the development of our search

    Give us your comments via the feedback form at the bottom of each search results page.

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    How does our search fit with NHS Evidence?

    NHS Evidence and the NHS Information Centre are both resources available to health and social care professionals, but they offer different types information.

    • NHS Evidence is a web portal which provides access to a broad range of authoritative clinical and non-clinical sources of evidence and best practice.
    • The NHS Information Centre is England’s central authoritative source of national comparative data and official statistical information.

    Both provide quality information to health and social care professionals, which can be used to inform decision making and improve the quality of care and services.

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