The government says patient care in the NHS will be improved through more efficient and safer access to health data, which will drive innovation and lead to potentially lifesaving research.
Professor Ben Goldacre, Bennett Professor of Evidence-Based Medicine at the University of Oxford, has published the findings from his independent review into how the NHS can achieve better, broader and safer use of health data.
Learning lessons from the pandemic, the review advises how to utilise health data in healthcare and sets out 185 recommendations to the government.
The pandemic has demonstrated the immense value of health data in driving research to improve patient outcomes and save lives – such as the discovery of dexamethasone as the first treatment for COVID-19.
Large-scale data analysis enabled better understanding of patient outcomes more rapidly than previously possible. The speed and scale of this data analysis was possible through the interconnected nature of NHS systems, as well as specific legal measures to enable data access quickly.
Data also allows the NHS to continue delivering world-leading care, for instance by helping to understand whether different patient groups respond better to different treatment options, or to anticipate future demands on the healthcare system by tracking the prevalence of disease.
The review makes a range of proposals, including:
- increasing data transparency by adopting Trusted Research Environments (TREs) as secure virtual spaces for verified researchers to access health data which will reduce the risk of data breaches
- improving opportunities for data analysts within the NHS by modernising their job and career development, including improving salaries, training, structure, community and best practice
- encouraging open working for all NHS data analysis, for instance through the use of a shared library of data analysis tools, reducing duplication and increasing consistency of results
Professor Ben Goldacre said: “NHS data is a phenomenal resource that can revolutionise healthcare, research and the life sciences. But data alone is not enough. We need secure, efficient platforms – and teams with skills – to unleash this potential. This will be difficult, technical work. It is inspiring to see momentum grow for better, broader, safer use of health data across so many sectors.”
The government’s response to the review will be included in the upcoming Health and Social Care Data Strategy which will set the direction for the use of data in a post-pandemic healthcare system.