New data strategy aims to ‘close digital divide’ between NHS and social care

·4-min read

The Health Secretary will vow to ensure researchers can access patient data “safely and efficiently” as a new strategy aims to “close the digital divide” between the NHS and social care.

Sajid Javid is expected to hail the power of information-sharing to benefit health and social care, but also pledge to “improve trust in data” and make it easier for people to opt out if they wish.

Mr Javid is due to launch a new data in health strategy at London Tech Week’s HealthTech Summit, which will contain commitments to give patients greater access to and control over their data.

The strategy sets out an aim to have three-quarters of the adult population in England registered with the NHS app within the next two years.

The public will also be consulted on a new so-called data pact, setting out how the healthcare system will use patient data, and what the public has the right to expect, the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said.

Millions of patients will benefit from faster, more innovative treatment and diagnosis as a result of the strategy, entitled Data Saves Lives: Reshaping Health And Social Care With Data, the department added.

Mr Javid will tell those gathered at the summit the opportunities ahead are “incredible”.

He will say: “We will make sure researchers and innovators are able to access data safely and efficiently.

“In this country we have some of the world’s best research institutes and universities, a powerhouse life sciences sector, and a thriving HealthTech industry.

“When this ingenuity meets the insight of health and care data, the opportunities are incredible.”

The strategy sets out how a “secure and privacy-preserving system” benefiting both patients and professionals can be achieved, building on lessons learned from the approach to using data during the coronavirus pandemic, the department said.

The seven principles in the strategy include giving health and care professionals access to the information they need to provide care, improving data for adult social care, and giving researchers data to help develop treatments and diagnostics.

The strategy has a target of 75% of the adult population to be registered to use the NHS App by March 2024, with the overall aim for the app to be a “one-stop shop for health needs”.

Mr Javid will vow to “improve trust in data, which is the currency that data-driven technologies need to function”.

On opting out, he will say that while “most people want their data to be used for good, we will make the opt-out system simpler and more transparent”.

The strategy will build on lessons learned from data sharing during the pandemic (Martin Keene/PA)
The strategy will build on lessons learned from data-sharing during the pandemic (Martin Keene/PA)

The Government has said better use of data is central to its mission to integrate health and social care, and said £25 million will be made available in 2022/23 to scale up the investment in, and implementation of, digital social care technology across England to make sure data is captured at the point of care and can be shared between settings.

Less than half (45%) of social care providers use a digital social care record, and 23% of care home staff cannot access the internet consistently at work, the DHSC said.

Under the strategy, the aim is for at least 80% of social care providers to have a digitised care record in place by March 2024.

At the summit, Mr Javid is expected to say: “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.”

Professor Sir John Bell, regius professor of medicine at the University of Oxford, said the strategy “genuinely will save many thousands of lives every year”.

He said: “We have shown in Covid that we have some of the best data in the world but that it needs integration across all aspects of care to provide real benefits for patients and for the NHS.

“This data strategy ‘Data Saves Lives’ provides the framework that will allow our data assets to be productively used, enhancing all aspects of care. It genuinely will save many thousands of lives every year.”

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