NHS England moots regional-level data collection to support national analytics

Written by Rebecca Hill on 19 January 2017 in News
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Regional NHS bodies could soon be asked to collect patient information to create a ‘data-lake’ for use at a national level, according to an NHS England consultation document.

NHS England wants to boost use of patient data - Photo credit: Flickr, Medill DC, CC BY 2.0

The proposal, detailed in a draft consultation document produced after a November 2016 summit on Interoperability and Population Health, would see this data-lake being used to perform “near real-time analytics” on psuedonymised at a national level.

The summit, which was attended by senior digital and information leaders from the NHS, academia and industry – including Google’s DeepMind, which has recently signed a number of patient data-sharing deals with NHS Trusts – looked at what target architecture would be needed to create a paperless NHS by 2020.

The document said that the architecture needed to be able to create a data-lake to “support national analytics and insight across a number of different stakeholders such as NHS England, NHS Improvement, [the Care Quality Commission and [Public Health England]”.

The document argued that this data should be collected at a regional level because there is a “richer set of data gathered at a regional level than nationally”.

This will mean that data controllership is local – falling under accountable care organisations and Sustainability and Transformation Plan footprints.


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The document said that this regionalised approach would allow the focus of improving data quality to be to be managed at a local level, and “so support professionals who will have a direct local stake in this and, just as importantly, the conversation between professionals and citizens on how and what data is be used and shared”.

The document stressed that the regional platforms - which would have populations of between 2 and 5 million - would adhere to national standards, in line with recommendations from the National Data Guardian’s review of data use and patient consent models – which is expected to be published next month – which would allow them to be integrated into the national data platform.

However, the move could lead to speculation that the aim is to introduce national analytics activities without the need to directly involve bodies like the National Information Board and NHS Digital.

The document also noted that, elsewhere in the world, regulations on health data-sharing have been enacted "without major push-back" in systems with a population of up to 5 million - the number NHS England is aiming for in its own regional systems.

This could be seen as a suggestion that NHS England believes moving to a model where local bodies are the public face of data-sharing will meet with less controversy than national-scale ones, such as the scrapped care.data scheme.

David Walker, former managing director for public reporting at the Audit Commission, said that the STPs already share a lot of data, such as financial information, “which necessarily involves some patient level data”, and that there is already active collaboration on the ground in some areas.

“The logic of coordination and collaboration, whether it is an STP or an accountable care organisation, must be data sharing and integration of IT, and eventually joint procurement,” he said. “And that isn't just inside the NHS, it has to mean across the boundary between health and local government.”

However, he said that the bigger problem would be “getting the voices to sing together” across the whole of the NHS. “Simon Stevens [NHS England chief] and Will Smart [NHS England’s CIO] say one thing (go for it!), but there's little if any back up – and even discordant noises from NHS Digital. The political leadership of the NHS meanwhile is nowhere.”

NHS England had not responded to a request for comment on the details of the costs or timeline involved in the project or how it will relate to NHS Digital at the time of going to press, while NHS Digital said it could not comment because policy falls to NHS England.

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