Clinical information leaders from across the NHS have issued a joint declaration calling for interoperability to be recognised as vital to safe, connected patient care.

The ‘Newcastle Declaration’ was developed at the 2015 Chief Clinical Information Officer Network Summer School in Newcastle. It calls for a radical step change on interoperability to enable truly joined up health and social care.

It says that citizens have the right to expect that health and care professionals have access to all the available information needed to provide care. 

“Too often, health and care professionals today lack key information available on those they care for, and have to make treatment decisions without access to all of the currently available knowledge, such as previous care and test results. Citizens and patients deserve better,” the declaration says.

“We therefore urge all involved in planning and delivery of health and social care, not least policy makers and system suppliers, to urgently adopt five interoperability principles”

First is that complete, accurate and timely information fundamentally underpins safe and effective health and social care.

Secondly, clinicians and social care providers require information to be routinely shared if they are to provide optimal care to patients and citizens.

Third is that patients and citizens have a right to expect that their information will be shared with their health and care teams along their journey, and that their consent to share or not share will be respected.

Also, that within the health and social care system it is the legally defined data controllers who must determine information sharing.

Finally, suppliers and healthcare providers must ensure the flow of data: “It is unacceptable for any supplier or healthcare provider to impede the flow of citizen’s health and care data for narrow organisational, commercial, or other reasons,” it says.

Five supporting technical principles on interoperability focus on APIs and standards and stress that legal data controllers, rather than suppliers, must make decisions about interoperability.

Dr Joe McDonald, chair of the CCIO Network said: "I am delighted that the feeling erupting from the CCIO Summer School in Newcastle this year has been captured in the Newcastle Declaration.

“We have come to the view that in a digital age and in a taxpayer funded health service, the citizen has a right to expect their vital information will be delivered to their care team without hindrance from healthcare or IT system providers.

“As a group of CCIOs we are effectively the customer for health IT systems and in the future we won't be buying systems which don't comply with the principles of the Declaration."

Indi Singh, head of enterprise architecture at NHS England, said: “This declaration sends out a strong signal from those providing care on how we need to approach interoperability. It aligns and re-iterates the need for common and open APIs for information sharing as per the National Information Board interoperability strategy.

"We look forward to working with the CCIO community in conjunction with industry and national organisations on how we can collectively meet its aims.”

Dr David Stables, founder of interoperability charity Endeavour Health, said: “This has been written down in black and white and with authority, by people who are responsible for front line healthcare. There is no turning away from this and no turning back.

“It would be a wonderful thing to be able to meet the expectations set out in this declaration. I believe they will be met.”

The document says NHS and social care providers and commissioners have a key role to play and must require suppliers to adhere to common standards. They should ensure that support and maintenance of open APIs becomes a core requirement of all IT procurements and contracts.

The recent techUK interoperability charter, backed by more than 60 companies, is welcomed as a helpful step in framing what should be expected of suppliers.

The Declaration adds that because the benefits of interoperability and information sharing are often distributed, individual organisations charged with integrating health and care need help building business cases for investment in sharing.

The Newcastle Declaration concludes with a call for action: “We call on all parties working across health and social care to support the ‘Newcastle Declaration’ to help build a safer, more joined-up health and social care system for all.”