Open Access publishing

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Open Access publishing of research means making the research free to view, rather than through a paid subscription.


Jisc (the UK digital, data and technology agency for higher education, research, and innovation) gives a good overview of what this means and the benefits to researchers and society in general. NHS Education for Scotland recently conducted research with NHS Scotland authors (including clinicians, researchers, and educators) on their awareness around Open Access publishing. There were a small number of respondents (17), however, less that 50% of the published authors contacted had used an Open Access publishing route.

Why does it matter?

We could look at it as a moral imperative, as well as a social good, that research information generated within publicly funded bodies belongs to all of us, but it is more than a moral argument. The Chief Scientist Office, NHS Scotland, has an open access policy for funded research, as do many other funding bodies, e.g. those under the UK Research and Innovation group of research councils and the National Institute for Health and Care Research insist, as part of their research grant, that the research findings are published as Open Access. NHS Research Scotland, in conjunction with the Health Research Authority has a policy of research transparency, Make it Public.

Despite this there is currently no central funding in the NHS in Scotland either locally or nationally for open access publishing and the advice staff are given is that if they are doing a funded piece of research that they should include budget for this.

Open Access publishing options

As detailed by Jisc, there are a variety of ways to satisfy the need for open access:

  • Gold: the published version of a peer reviewed journal article is immediately available for everyone to read, in a peer reviewed journal. This usually means the author, or their organisation, must pay an article processing fee (APC), which can amount to thousands of pounds. This is to fund the journal publication and review process, rather than charging readers and subscribers. If you are submitting a funding bid for research, you should factor in the article processing charges as part of the cost of the research project.
  • Green: the author retains the right to publish a version of the article in an organisational repository, while the final version remains pay-to-view in a subscription journal. Most universities have organisational repositories, which are open to everyone to view. The sophistication of the indexing of research materials means that the repository versions can be found alongside the published version when a reader searches for evidence in, for example, the NHS Scotland Library Search. The rules for “Green” open access publishing, where authors can give access to their paper via routes external to the published journal article, vary in accordance with the agreement the author makes with the journal publisher accepting the paper for publication. For example, you may be able to host a copy created prior to peer review, or at some other point during the review process. The ways you are able to share it will also be defined by the agreement with the publisher, e.g. institutional repository, personal webpage, non-commercial repository or commercial repository. All of these have advantages and disadvantages but clearly, authors publishing as open access want to reach as wide an audience as possible and deposit the work in a site which is indexed by scientific and medical databases. At present, there is no single institutional repository in NHS Education for Scotland or NHS Scotland, although there are means of sharing research data (see Research Data Scotland) and Jisc Sherpa Services provide guidance on individual journal titles compliance with open access funded research policies.
  • Diamond/platinum: diamond, a.k.a platinum open access journals are both free to read and free for authors to submit to, being community driven, academically owned and academically led. An overview of this model can be read on the Science Europe site. The Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ) is a good place to search for credible journals publishing under this model.

When publishing with a commercial publisher under green or gold agreements, the rights the author signs over under licence to the publisher will vary depending on the journal. Some journals (especially in the diamond/platinum model) may allow the application of a Creative Commons licence.

  • Karger read and publish subscription

As part of our subscription to the Karger journal collection, we have a read and publish deal. This means Karger will accept submissions to their journals, for peer review and subsequent publishing of high- quality research, without the need to pay an article processing charge. See

  • BMJ Case Reports 

As subscribers to BMJ Case Reports, we are provided with a code for each health board, which enables NHS researchers to submit case reports free of charge. Contact  or your local library service for this. Unfortunately, the submitted case reports will not be published as Open Access, unless an additional fee of circa £475 is paid.

  • Scottish University Press

If you are affiliated with a University, the Scottish University Press provides a cost-effective route for Scottish HEIs to make their work freely available. Currently the focus is on publishing books but there are plans to publish articles in the future.

Predatory publishing

Beware of predatory publishing, which refers to deceptive or unscrupulous practices by certain journals or publishers attempting to exploit the open access model. This typically means charging authors a fee for publishing while providing minimal or no peer review, leading to the dissemination of low-quality or misleading research. For more information about predatory publishing see the University of Cambridge’s open research site.