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Data saves lives
Tom Foley, Senior Clinical Lead for Data at NHS Digital, writes about the power of data in health and social care.
11 March 2020
For the past three years, I have split my week between seeing patients as a child and adolescent psychiatrist and working as the senior clinical lead for data at NHS Digital. This has given me a unique perspective on how two fantastic teams help patients. I have sometimes found it hard to persuade my team at NHS Digital how much impact their work has on patients.
The truth is that analysts, data scientists and the other professionals who support them play a crucial role in making it possible for clinicians to work effectively.
The NHS has some of the richest health data assets in the world. These are used by a range of people – researchers, doctors, government bodies, charities – to improve our health. People don’t always realise that getting the right data, in the right place, at the right time, can have just as much impact as a prescription or a medical procedure.
In the UK, we probably have the world’s longest and proudest tradition of using data to improve health. One of our earliest and most effective clinical informaticians was Florence Nightingale. Her examination of the causes of death of British soldiers stationed in Crimea and her highly effective deployment of this data and analysis revolutionised practice. She helped create the modern hospital. Her suggested changes in care, including mandatory hand-washing, are still critical today.
Data extracted from many records and analysed at both national and local levels helps us to understand more about health and disease, improve public health through targeted interventions, monitor safety, and plan and deliver health and social care services more effectively. For this to happen, data needs to be collected in a high quality (accurate and complete), consistent (comparable), safe and legal way.
Nationally, NHS Digital is the safe-haven for patient data and is legally accountable for the collection, storing and use of patient data for research on behalf of the health and care system. We publish over 200 statistical reports a year.
We conducted a Clinical Review to discover how people were using our data (ranging from the number of emergency hospital emissions through to patient reported outcome measures) and what impact that had on patients as well as the health and care system.
We have not always been good at measuring the impact and we had never conducted a review of this type before. We were therefore keen to do so and examine the feedback to see how we could improve what we are doing.
The NHS has some of the richest health data assets in the world. The right data, in the right place, at the right time, can have just as much impact as a prescription or a medical procedure.
We discovered, from a sample of organisations who had accessed our data in 2018, five categories of impact:
- Improving health and care
- Supporting research activities
- Supporting policy and planning
- Supporting assessments and efficiencies
- Improving data capabilities
Some examples of work covered by the review included:
Research partnerships can save and improve lives as long as they are underpinned by robust and ethical frameworks.
Geraint Lewis, Chief Data Officer at NHS England, brings to life some of the ways in which data is already transforming health and care services and outlines his top priorities for the next year.