Daily Insight: a data revolution? | New

A new health and social protection data strategy has been released by the government, which wants to “bottle the spirit” seen during the pandemic and use the “full power of data” for the challenges ahead.

The timing of publication is somewhat ironic – being the day before an initial deadline for patients wishing to opt out of a major data-sharing program between GPs and NHS Digital, only to have the project delayed by two months after the outcry from professional and militant organizations.

In any case, the new strategy sets a direction of travel for the NHS in terms of how it should unlock the undisputed benefits of the large amount of data it contains.

At the heart of the strategy are legislative proposals to give the Secretary of State the power to impose data standards, a new ‘duty’ for health and welfare organizations to share data (including data identifiable on patients) and a longer-term aspiration to enable data-sharing for purposes such as billing, commissioning, policy development, auditing and risk stratification.

It is hoped that this will ultimately lead to an environment where patients can access all of their NHS data in one place, and where NHS and social service staff can access all the appropriate data needed without any barriers.

If you think this sounds familiar to you, you are right. The strategy contains several aspirations also found in previous attempts to improve the NHS ‘use of data, including care.data (2013) and “vision for a more technology-driven NHS“(2018).

But with the pandemic having highlighted the importance of data to the public, the appetite for change seems greater now than before.

From talking until moving on

The national champion of ‘speaking out’ in the NHS has announced that she will step down after five years in the role.

Henrietta Hughes is stepping down as National Guardian of the Freedom to Speak Up program to lead a children’s mental health charity.

Dr Hughes was the second person appointed to the post of National Guardian – which was recommended by Sir Robert Francis’ report on whistleblowing in the NHS in 2015.

More than 50,000 cases have been brought to the attention of Freedom Speech Guardians since their inception, with the number of referrals increasing each year. There are now over 700 Freedom of Speech Guardians in over 400 healthcare organizations.

Dr Hughes, announcing his departure, praised the ‘courage’ of NHS staff who listened, as well as those who listened and followed the concerns.

Sir Robert praised Dr Hughes for making a ‘massive contribution’ to the changes the NHS has made to patients over the past five years.

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