Data is the Key to Unlocking Improved Patient Care For NHS England

Published on
27/02/2023 10:47 AM
Patient care

As of the beginning of this month, NHS Digital has merged with NHS England, establishing one, single executive non-departmental government body with responsibility for digital technology, data and health service delivery in the NHS. The merger offers a golden opportunity to link the collection of data to deeper analysis to drive innovation and research, in order to reduce inefficiencies and improve patients outcomes. For example, healthcare leaders could gain an overview of surgical incidents that occur and from there, plan strategies to improve patient care.  

We are already seeing data being tracked and released to the public as a marker for NHS performance. For example, waiting times for A&E admissions, ambulance handover delays, statistics on specific NHS Trusts etc… but this is only scratching the surface of how data can be used! 

So, how can the NHS make the most of this opportunity? 

The first step is improving the quality of the data being collected. To achieve a successful data-driven business transformation, there needs to be a clear understanding of what data the NHS is collecting and what it is being used for (this means asking: is it fair? Is it representative? Is it covering everybody?) . NHS England needs to understand the value of the data being collected!

Another element to consider is data governance. This is the clear set of best practices which determine how data is extracted and used by a business. Many organisations see data governance as the need for a set of comprehensive rules that keep data within narrow and easily controllable confines. Instead, proper use of data governance should empower organisations to use their data effectively without having to worry about regulatory compliance issues. 

Collecting Public Health Data 

If NHS England can display understanding around the data being collected and use it effectively, the public are likely to entrust more data to the organisation (and by extension, the public sector generally). Receiving data from the public is of paramount importance to NHS England, as the hope is that new digital technologies, such as NHS digital apps, will use individuals' data to gain insight and provide better patient outcomes across the UK. 

There is a risk that the public may not be willing to share health data on this scale due to privacy concerns (for example, the public scepticism around COVID passes).  To resolve this,  the NHS must explain what it is doing with the public's data and why. For example, if the NHS can explain how a specific piece of data is collected and used to help others overcome life threatening illnesses, I guarantee more members of the public would happily sign their data over.  

Pitfalls To Avoid 

In order to assure the public of their data security and to be successful in establishing a data strategy, NHS England needs to avoid some of the pitfalls that public sector organisations often fall into when it comes to data transformations. 

Firstly, it’s not just a case of “the computer says no!” Rather than simply aiming to deploy the latest, shiny data tools and technology, the NHS needs to ensure it has the people in place with the ability to create, read, write and argue with data. A successful data strategy is based on a combination of technology being effective, but also, an individual using data in the correct way. To put it simply, the computer needs to be feeding an individual the correct information so that they can make informed decisions. 

Secondly, the NHS must ensure a good level of connection and communication. It is essential that data is shared effectively between different NHS Trusts, (but also the police, schools, etc) in order to gain valuable insights and ultimately increase efficiency, lower wait times, and even use predictive modelling to unlock money savings and improve the public's experience. 

Thirdly… We’ve all heard the advice to ask for forgiveness rather than permission… It might sound risky but, in data, there is a real need to be innovative to ensure a strategy is as efficient as possible! A big issue in the public sector is that organisations can be overly cautious due to worries of what could go wrong and the subsequent ridicule from the public.  Being cautious and using the right data plan is key, but boundaries also need to be pushed to harness the full power of NHS data. 

Doing Data Better

The establishment of one body responsible for data could be a very positive opportunity for the NHS to undertake an organisation- wide data transformation, where the standard of data being collected, the means of data collection, data governance and tools can all be improved.  Doing data better requires a laser focus on operations - a mechanism that activates your data by bringing people, process and tech together. 

If NHS England is successful in this mission, it’s likely that the NHS can begin to align its data strategy with its business strategy in order to provide the most effective patient care possible. 


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