The government should invest in local data sharing to help the country recover from Covid-19 and prepare for future pandemics, according to data experts.
The Northern Health Science Alliance (NHSA) have said investment in local data sharing programmes is “vital” to fighting future pandemics and building a resilient network.
The alliance established a health data network, Connected Health Cities (CHC), in the North of England and believes similar networks could be used to flow data to help local communities take swifter, more decisive actions in tackling crises.
It comes following an NHSA roundtable with leaders in the NHS, public health, academics and policymakers to discuss how the CHC health data sharing project could help inform the national response to Covid-19.
Dr Séamus O’Neill, chief executive at the NHSA, said: “CHC is a proven model of work that has gained the trust of millions of people across the North and paved the way for 10 million shared health data records.
“As lockdown measures start to become localised, the importance of regional data sharing innovations should be recognised, and invested in, by the Government.
“CHC gave us ways to work locally for regional and national benefit. By applying this learning and investing in the next steps of the project, we can help ensure the health and social care systems are better prepared for future health crises and in a position to react and respond quickly based on the needs of the people and systems locally.”
The Government-funded CHC pilot programme showed early indications of at least £150 million worth of cash savings in the North of England’s NHS and social care every year, according to the alliance.
The £20m, four-year pilot was funded by the Department of Health in 2015. The NHSA is calling on the government to invest in the next phase of the CHC programme.
Professor Iain Buchan, executive dean Institute of Population Health, University of Liverpool and architect of CHC, said: “Civic partnerships of NHS, local government and academic organisations are sufficiently close to resident communities to earn their trust for sharing data at scale, to analyse the data in context and to understand how to act on the intelligence.
“For better pandemic preparedness there needs to be a national grid of intelligence-led civic health and care systems – each with a critical mass of data analysts working together to understand their local system, combining NHS, public health, social care, research and other perspectives.
“Such a grid would afford distributed resilience for the UK, and a more powerful health data/tech innovation network.”
Professor John Ainsworth, professor of health informatics at The University of Manchester and director of CHC Hub, added: “There is a real opportunity to capitalise on this future by acting locally, building trust, and building networks so we can form a collective that’s greater than the sum of its parts.
“We have already demonstrated that the CHC model works; a data driven approach to service design and quality improvement delivers benefit for providers and for patients. With follow-on investment we can accelerate it and create even more, lasting impact.”
CHC brought together 20 acute NHS trusts, more than 500 GP practices, 10 universities and the northern Academic Health Science Networks to innovate and improve care through joint working from March 2016 to March 2020.
It was delivered through a coordinating hub in Manchester and regional centres covering the North East and North Cumbria, North West Coast, Yorkshire and Humber and Greater Manchester.