The new NHS information strategy urges health and social care services to make full use of online technologies to put patients in control of their health and health records.

The strategy puts a particular emphasis on the creation of portals for patients, health professionals, commissioners and researchers, in a series of moves that health secretary Andrew Lansley says will free up the "power" of information.

A national ‘portal’ will be created as the definitive source of trusted information on health and social care by 2013. The NHS portal will inform patients’ decisions on selecting treatments and providers.

This fits with the central theme of shifting to a presumption of sharing information within and between health and social care providers, and capturing data just once at the point of care.

"These proposals will ensure that the NHS will become easier to understand, easier to access and will drive up standards of care,” said Lansley.

A new commitment is given to make it far easier for the life sciences industry to access anonymised patient records, with the lead role to be provided by the Health and Social Care Information Centre.

An ambition is also outlined to develop integrated health and social care records, and provide patient access, “once technology permits."

The long-awaited strategy, developed after extensive consultation, is titled ‘The power of information of information: Putting us all in control of the health and care information we need.’

The strategy is big on ambition – nothing less than the previously promised ‘information revolution’ – but only offers a sketchy map of how to get there.

The first NHS information strategy since the multi-billion National Programme for IT in the NHS was launched a decade ago also almost entirely ignores its predecessor and the mixed legacy it has left.

Primary care information systems and national data collection are singled out for praise.

“Unlike previous information strategies, it does not reinvent large-scale information systems or detailed mechanisms for delivery," the foreward says. "Rather, it provides a framework and a route map to lead a transformation in the way information is collected and used."

A core guiding principle is that the centre should get out of the way except on core standards and undefined elements of national infrastructure.

The information strategy paints a broad big canvass, covering all health and social care organisations and defines information users as including clinicians, patients, carers, researchers and local councillors.

The strategy provides only hints of how these ambitions are to be achieved, with further “implementation papers” promised to follow.

No specific financial commitments are given, other than a brief statement that there will be some funding from capital investment for patients administration systems for hospitals that didn’t receive them from NPfIT.

Cultural change is, however, identified as essential with recognition given to the need to invest on health informatics training.

Every organisation is directed to nominate a board-level chief clinical information lead, with recognition given to the potential of the new chief clinical information officer role.

The document says that as part of this transformation, information must become “regarded as a health and social care service in its own right." It says there is a need to catalyse a cultural shift in favour of information sharing and information enabled services.

“The success of this strategy depends as much on a culture shift – in the way patients, users of services and professionals think, work and interact – as it does on data or IT services.”

With the decision already taken to abolish the Department of Health Informatics Directorate, and the NHS Connecting for Health agency by next April, a key question will be who takes national responsibility for the delivery of the strategy.

In theory, this will be the NHS Commissioning Board in conjunction with Public Health England and the Health and Social Care Information Centre, but overall implementation responsibilities – including national standards development, accreditation, contracts procurement and management and the running of core national information services – are so far unclear.


NHS information strategy