The University of Oxford has launched an institute for data science to pave the way for better use of data and digital tools in healthcare.

The Bennett Institute for Applied Data Science will aim to pioneer the better use of data, evidence and digital tools in healthcare, and optimise the impact of digital and data interventions to improve health outcomes.

The Institute will bring together academics from a range of disciplines including policy experts, statisticians, software engineers and clinicians. Through the development and implementation of new methods and tools to make data more impactful they aim to help improve the lives of patients.

The Institute was made possible through the Peter Bennett Foundation, which was formed in 2013 to promote equity and reduce poverty through its institutional support and direct donations. In 2016 it made its first academic effort and funded the Bennett Institute for Public Policy at the University of Cambridge. The new institute – to be based within the Nuffield Department of Primary Care Health Sciences – is its latest academic endeavour.

Peter Bennett, founding benefactor of the foundation, said: “More than ever before, we now have access to vast amounts of data. We have a responsibility to use, analyse, develop and apply this data in an ethical way to promote change for good – with an emphasis on targeting the right kind of growth and achieving levelling up in society. I am deeply passionate about the tools that data science can provide us with to facilitate positive change in a systemic way.

“The Bennett Institute for Applied Data Science is poised to innovate and lead the way in changing the face of data science, in the realm of public health, in the public policy sphere more widely and across all disciplines and sectors.”

The Bennett Institute will expand on the work that has already been undertaken by Dr Ben Goldacre in the DataLab.

“This backing from the Peter Bennett Foundation will help us to rapidly accelerate our work, innovate more flexibly, and develop broad collaborations outside of medicine,” Goldacre said.

“Our work has two defining features: we stay close to work that directly improves the lives of citizens; and we share all our work under open source licenses, for review and re-use by all. It is  great to see strong support for this open, practical ethos: we look forward to proving its power over the coming years.”

Professor Louise Richardson, vice-chancellor of the University of Oxford, added: “The experience of the pandemic has demonstrated the centrality of both data and evidence, not only in shaping sound government policies, but also in improving public health outcomes.

“Ben Goldacre and his team have shown just how important universities have been in contributing to the nation’s health and well-being. I look forward to following their work in the years to come.”

Goldacre is leading review into how health data for research and analysis can be used more efficiently and safely.