The Midlands and Lancashire Commissioning Support Unit is developing a ‘pseudonymise at source’ tool to address legal issues around the use of patient identifiable data.

Ruth Lemiech and Karen Bradley, transformation associates at the CSU, spoke about their work at the Health + Care conference in London.

Lemiech said the CSU has been merging health and social care data to develop “real insights” for commissioners, developing a detailed understanding of patient flows by matching data sets for areas such as A&E, inpatients and outpatients, and complete pathways of care.

“There’s a real challenge to do something with the data… we’ve done a detailed analysis and we’ve got a really good understanding at the patient level.”

Bradley told EHI the CSU’s focus is on providing commissioners with a “best evidence” base for healthcare.

“Our ultimate goal is to be able to support commissioners at every level, from a patient-identifiable level and care management through to high-level commissioning decision-making.”

Bradley said the CSU has also been working with decision support solutions provider PI on risk stratification and producing intelligence reports for the Better Care Fund, to give CCGs information they cannot produce themselves for pathways of care, emergency admissions and other areas.

She said the CSU is working on a tool to pseudonymise identifiable data at source to ensure it can use social care data legally without requiring legal exemptions.

“We’re putting all our eggs in one basket around pseudonymise at source, and we’re building a tool for it, because we believe it’s the most sensible way forward if we’re going to achieve anything in reasonable timescales.

“We could wait for section 251, but obviously we have a really valuable piece of information for commissioners that can help with decisions around the Better Care Fund, and we want to support them with this.”

Pseudonymising data at its source means identifiable information such as a person’s age, post code and NHS Number is not extracted along with other data.

The Health and Social Care Information Centre has created a steering group to consider possible use of pseudonymisation at source for the programme.

Bradley said the methodology for the CSU’s tool has been tried and tested by the Nuffield Trust.

The tool is designed so the common key used to generate the unique pseudonyms disappears during the pseudonymisation process and is not held by anyone.

Bradley said the CSU has run workshops using the tool to prepare three Better Care Fund intelligence report templates for CCGs.

It will be able to feed data flows into those and a further four templates once the tool is cleared as legal – hoped to be by the end of the summer.

Bradley said the CSU is currently working with five health economies in the West Midlands.

The CSU was formed by the merger of Central Midlands and Staffordshire & Lancashire, and is one of nine “alliances” formed either by partnerships or mergers.