A new strategy has been launched by the government to drive transformation in health and care by reshaping the way data is used.

The strategy, titled ‘Data Saves Lives: Reshaping Health and Social Care with Data’, was originally published in draft form in June 2021 and a year later, the full document has been published on 13 June 2022. The strategy focuses on seven principles to harness the data driven power and innovation seen during the pandemic to drive transformation.

The seven principles set out are:

  • Improving trust in the health and care systems’ use of data
  • Giving health and care professionals the information they need to provide the best care
  • Improving data for adult social care
  • Supporting local decision makers with data
  • Empowering researchers with the data they need to develop life changing treatments and diagnostics
  • Working with partners to develop innovations that improve health and care
  • Developing the right technical infrastructure

Health Secretary to introduce the strategy

The Secretary of State for Health and Social Care Sajid Javid will launch the strategy at London Tech Week’s HealthTech Summit.

He is expected to say: “We will improve trust in data, which is the currency that data-driven technologies need to function.

“We will work with the public, including people working in health and care, to develop a new pact on data, which will set out how we will use health and care data, and what the public has the right to expect. 

“This will include the ability to opt out of sharing data. Because although we know that most people want their data to be used for good, we will make the opt-out system simpler and more transparent.”

Javid is also expected to acknowledge that our social care system is not as digitally advanced as it should be in comparison to the NHS but that the strategy will address the issue.

He is anticipated to add: “We must be open and honest about the fact that social care lags behind the NHS when it comes to digital transformation.

“Our social care system is home to some of our most vulnerable in our society, and so the opportunities on offer are even greater. This strategy shows our determination to close the digital divide that exists between the NHS and social care.”

The idea of improving access to medical records for patients through the NHS app was first brought to light in the draft data strategy

Health Secretary at the time, Matt Hancock, highlighted that the draft strategy shows plans for data partnerships that allow the NHS and industry to create tools and insights from data, and this has been carried forward into the full strategy.

Tim Ferris, national director of transformation at NHS England and NHS Improvement, said: “The NHS is determined to bring the benefits of data to improve care and outcomes for patients and drive better, more efficient services.

“This strategy builds on the excellent progress made during the pandemic and paves the way to a future NHS that routinely harnesses the power of data to save lives and enables innovative research into new treatments.”

A big move to create Trusted Research Environments

In addition, another major part of the new strategy is that Secure Data Environments will be made the default for NHS and adult social care organisations to provide access to de-identified data for research, meaning data linked to an individual will never leave a secure server and can only be used for agreed research purposes.

Following a £200million investment, Trusted Research Environments (TREs) will be established to better enable researchers to securely access linked NHS data while maintaining the highest levels of privacy and security.

This comes after a review led by Professor Ben Goldacre, a Bennett professor of evidence-based medicine at the University of Oxford, which looked into how health data for research and analysis can be used efficiently.

In his review, he recommended that TREs become “the norm” and later told the Science and Technology Committee that they will mitigate data risks and “earn public trust”.

In response to the new strategy and the move to use TREs, Goldacre said: “NHS data has phenomenal untapped power. This is a momentous document because it reaches beyond aphorisms and gets into crucial technical detail.

“The move to use Trusted Research Environments, in particular, is historic. TREs earn public trust by provably protecting patients’ privacy, and by sharing detailed transparent audits of all data usage. They also drive efficiency, because all users working with the same datasets can use common tools for data curation and analysis,” he explained.

“The small number of secure platforms described in this document will finally unlock the vast potential in all patient data for research and for improving NHS care. Done right, they will address the privacy concerns of the past and drive faster, more reliable, more secure and more efficient use of data, from more teams than ever before.”

The data strategy is due to be followed by the digital health and care plan – which is a delivery plan for digital transformation across healthcare set out by the government.