The Health and Social Care Information Centre is to set up a Centre of Excellence for Big Data and Data Science with the Department of Health and the Cabinet Office.

Interviews for a director for the centre were held in December and discussions with a candidate are ongoing – although an appointment has not yet been made, Digital Health News understands.

The idea for the centre was proposed under the government’s Data Science Programme. This was set up to in 2014 catalyse the use of data science in government policy-making and service delivery.

In early 2015, government departments were asked to build on this work and produce their own action plans themed around demonstrator projects, building capability, technology and other practical barriers, and communications and transparency.

The HSCIC, together with the DH and Cabinet Office, proposed the new centre as part of this work.

It is not clear yet what the remit of the new centre will be or how it will fit with HSCIC’s existing work on Big Data.

In April last year, HSCIC appointed Andrew Maclaren as executive director for information and analytics with a remit to lead on big data. He resigned his post in July 2015.

HSCIC told Digital Health News that the new director will be responsible for shaping the centre of excellence.

“The centre will become operational once a director has been officially appointed," a statement said.

“At that point, the director will then be responsible for building a function that will embed data science approaches and support the Data Science Programme.”

The move comes as interest in big data is mounting. A new Big Data Institute is due to open in Oxford shortly, with more than 500 scientists set to analyse data from the UK Biobank.

This has recruited more than half a million adults aged 40 to 69 since 2006 and already has vast amounts of data, including thousands of MRI scans, genetic profiles and cognitive ability tests.

Dr Mark Davies, medical director for MedeAnalytics, welcomed news of a new centre of excellence for big data and data science but warned that it must not stifle supplier innovation.

“I would hope that this will create an environment of innovation where we can harness the best data science in the world for health and drive forward approaches to predictive analysis and population segmentation that the NHS needs so badly,” he said.

“There is an enormous capability in the supplier community around these techniques and anything the new centre does needs to harness that.”