New health data strategy announced for England

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Patients in England will have greater access to GP records via the NHS app and power over how their data is used, after the launch of the new Health in Data Strategy.

Data Saves Lives: Reshaping Health Care and Social Services with Datapublished today by the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC), contains commitments to simplify the opt-out process for data sharing and improve access to GP records in the NHS app by November 2022.

Launching the strategy at London Tech Week’s HealthTech Summit, Health Secretary Sajid Javid announced that following a £200 million investment, Trusted Research Environments (TREs) – a form secure data environments would be established “to better enable researchers to securely access linked NHS data”. while maintaining the highest levels of privacy and security.

He added that the public will be consulted on a new “data pact”, defining how the health system will use patient data.

Javid also announced £25m for rapid digitization of social protection respect the commitment of at least 80% of social care providers to have digitized care records in place by March 2024bridging the ‘digital divide’ between the NHS and social services.

WHY IS IT IMPORTANT

Javid said ERTs would enable the NHS to “get life-saving, cutting-edge treatments and diagnostics to patients faster through clinical trials and facilitate more diverse and inclusive research to tackle entrenched health inequalities, which will enable in turn to the NHS to work through the COVID -19 backlogs at a faster pace.

With the ambition for the NHS app to be a one-stop-shop for healthcare needs, the strategy commits to 75% of the adult population being registered to use the NHS app by March 2024.

THE WIDER CONTEXT

The strategy is geared towards restoring public confidence in the use of health data, after a plan to share patient GP records with third parties has been postponed indefinitely last year due to privacy concerns.

In his recent exam in the use of health data for research and analysis, Professor Ben Goldacre, Director of the Bennett Institute at the University of Oxford, recommended the use of TREs to mitigate risk and gain public trust.

REGISTRATION

Professor Goldacre said: “This is a momentous document, as it goes beyond aphorisms and goes into crucial technical details. The decision to use TREs, in particular, is historic. TREs earn public trust by provably protecting patient privacy and sharing detailed transparent audits of all data usage.

NHS Digital CEO Simon Bolton said: “Our TRE is already supporting lifesaving clinical research and innovation, and we are working to deliver a new and improved national TRE service with improved accessibility and the highest standards of privacy and of security.

Simon Madden, co-head of the NHS’ digital transformation policy unit, said: “This data strategy commits to resetting the relationship with the public about the use of health and care data.”

Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, said: “We welcome the ambition of this strategy to get more adults using the NHS app – it will help free up staff time and enable more of patients to control their healthcare. However, with more than one in 10 adults in the UK not owning a smartphone, we need to be aware of the risk of worsening health inequalities.

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