Joined-up systems and effective use of data 'crucial' to success of Department of Health and Social Care's newly-launched data strategy
The use of data will underpin the Government's efforts to address the COVID-19 backlog and join up health and social care services
Interoperability and reliable, actionable information will be key to successfully delivering the Data Saves Lives strategy, industry leaders warned as the Government unveiled its digitalisation plans.
Technology experts spoke to BBH following the recent publication of the Department of Health and Social Care’s strategy for reshaping health and social care with data.
The plan focuses on seven principles to harness the data-driven power and innovation seen during the COVID-19 pandemic to drive transformation in health and care, creating ‘a secure and privacy-preserving system that delivers for both patients and professionals’.
Launching the strategy at the HealthTech Summit during London Tech Week, Health and Social Care Secretary, Sajid Javid, said: “We are embarking on a radical programme of reform that will make sure the NHS is set up to meet the challenges of 2048 – not 1948, when it was first established.
“This landmark document shows how we will use the power of data to bring benefits to all parts of health and social care.”
To give patients greater confidence that their personal information is safe, secure data environments will be made the default for NHS and adult social care organisations to provide access to de-identified data for research.
This means data linked to an individual will never leave a secure server and can only be used for agreed research purposes.
And, following a £200m investment, trusted research environments (TREs) – a form of secure data environments – will be established to better enable researchers to securely access linked NHS data while maintaining the highest levels of privacy and security.
We are embarking on a radical programme of reform that will make sure the NHS is set up to meet the challenges of 2048 – not 1948, when it was first established
This will enable the NHS to deliver cutting-edge life-saving treatments and diagnosis to patients faster through clinical trials and will facilitate more-diverse and inclusive research to tackle entrenched health inequalities, which will, in turn, enable the NHS to work through the COVID-19 backlog at a faster pace.
Javid said: “In this country, we have some of the world’s best research institutes and universities, a powerhouse life sciences sector, and a thriving HealthTech industry.
“When this ingenuity meets the insight of health and care data, the opportunities are incredible.”
The data strategy also contains key commitments to give patients greater access to, and control over, their data, including by simplifying the opt-out processes for data sharing and improving access to GP records in the NHS App by giving patients access to their latest health information by November of this year.
Further improvements, including being able to more easily request historic information including diagnosis, blood test results, and immunisations will be made available by December 2023.
And, following a £150m funding commitment to drive rapid digitisation in the adult social care sector, the strategy outlines how integrated care records will enable smoother transitions between NHS services and social care, including quicker discharge from hospital, freeing up valuable space.
But, while industry leaders welcomed the publication, they warned that health and care providers would need to work closely with technology companies to fully realise the ambitions.
I hope this will prompt suppliers across the sector to commit to open ways of working, rather than continuing to advocate inflexible legacy systems
Speaking to BBH, Paula Ridd, general manager for the UK and Ireland at Altera Digital Health, said interoperability would be key, adding: “I am pleased to see the strong focus on interoperability in the finalised strategy, which renews the commitment from the Government to support a connected health and care system that will improve experiences for patients and clinicians alike.
“I hope this will prompt suppliers across the sector to commit to open ways of working, rather than continuing to advocate inflexible legacy systems.
“But, while this is a final strategy, we are by no means finished talking about open data in the NHS.
“The second of the seven principles commits to ‘giving health and care professionals the information they need to provide the best possible care’ and this reflects our purpose as a provider to the NHS.
“We continually strive to make clinicians’ lives easier and equip them with tools that help them deliver better, more-personalised care.
This strategy marks the beginning of a real commitment to collaboration, stepping away from siloed ways of working and ushering in a data positive culture throughout the health and care system
“Additionally, we very much agree that data is the cornerstone of the health and care tech sector.
“However, this is only the case if this data is used, and when it is used that it is done so responsibly.
“Collectively, as a supplier base and sector we have a long way to go when it comes to developing, adopting, and complying with standards, but it is essential if we are to deliver truly-joined-up care.”
The strategy focuses on seven principles to harness the data-driven power and innovation witnessed during the pandemic to drive transformation of health and care services
Rachael Grimaldi, co-founder and chief executive of CardMedic, added: “The strategy is a product of shared thinking across the health and care sector and is a testament to what we can achieve if we work together.
“For us, this strategy marks the beginning of a real commitment to collaboration, stepping away from siloed ways of working and ushering in a data positive culture throughout the health and care system.
“As someone that is currently navigating the tricky path to embedding technology in the NHS, the strategy’s commitment to working with innovators to develop and deliver their solutions is welcomed news.
“The next phase of our roadmap is electronic patient record integration, and it is reassuring to know that we will be supported on this journey.”
Through continued investment and with the soon-to-be published standards and interoperability strategy I think the NHS can now actively work towards person-centred care and reduce the data burden for frontline staff
And Matt Cox, managing director at Better, said: “An increased focus on care, not just health, is a positive step forward in establishing better services for people and carers alike.
“We see the persistent approach to data and using open APIs as fundamental to this speed, particularly in transforming services, innovation, research, and cross-border initiatives.”
Tech leaders also highlighted the plans to use artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning to reduce health inequalities.
Mark England, chief executive of HN, said: “It is encouraging to see that a section on health inequalities, including how artificial intelligence can help to reduce health disparities.
“This is so important if we are going to lessen the gap in health outcomes between different places and communities across the country, especially as we move towards ICS’s and more-integrated ways of working.
“Machine learning and AI have the ability to keep people out of hospital, for example by predicting people who use urgent and emergency care frequently, which can affect those from the poorest backgrounds.
We still face many challenges to achieve true interoperability and maximise the ability for data sharing across health and care, but the strategy represents significant progress towards meeting that goal
“Through continued investment and with the soon-to-be published standards and interoperability strategy I think the NHS can now actively work towards person-centred care and reduce the data burden for frontline staff.”
Steve Sawyer, managing director of Access Health and Social Care, concludes: “As we see it, a key factor in the success of the strategy will be the consistent use of electronic patient record systems for the NHS and its adjacent organisations, with mobile integration ensuring staff have all of the information they need in the palm of their hand, regardless of the care setting they are in.
“Of course, we still face many challenges to achieve true interoperability and maximise the ability for data sharing across health and care, but the strategy represents significant progress towards meeting that goal, and we will be working with our customers to address the challenges they face, supporting them to make integrated care a reality.”