Data saves lives: reshaping health and social care with data (draft)

1st July 2021

Ministerial foreword

When facing the greatest public health emergency that this country has tackled for generations, one of the most impactful tools at our disposal was the power of data. With the facts, data, and science at our disposal, we can provide the meaningful and measurable results that the public deserves.

Data identified those who are most vulnerable to coronavirus. It helped us to help them shield, which protected both themselves and their families.

Data was essential to our day-to-day response.

And it powered vital research that helped us discover new treatments that saved lives in communities across the world.

Data made all the difference.

Across the health and care system people are using data more efficiently and effectively than ever before in a myriad of different and essential applications.

The urgency of this pandemic has driven unprecedented digital transformation throughout health and care. It has transformed people’s relationship with the NHS – for the better. People who might have only used the NHS once a year have been using the NHS COVID-19 app and NHS Test and Trace as part of their daily routines. Comfort and familiarity are already paying dividends for public health and will for decades to come.

Now is not the time to slow down or pause for breath, when the opportunities are so vast, and the momentum is so great. To the contrary, now is the time to grow our gains. It is our solemn responsibility to continue to improve the quality of life of every person in every community.

Our strategy delivers a strong set of commitments showing how we can build on this engagement, and this passion, and promote this transformative work even further.

It sets out our mission to unleash the unlimited potential of data in health and care, while maintaining the highest standards of privacy, ethics, and accountability.

Putting this strategy into action will deliver better treatment for patients, better health results for people who need care and support, and better decision making, research, and support for our colleagues on the front line. It also sets out how we will support the developers and researchers who we’ve all seen have so much potential to transform health and care. They save and improve lives, every day. They deserve our tireless support, just as they have worked tirelessly for our citizens.

Within this strategy you’ll find bold commitments like separating data from the underlying application to provide greater flexibility, boosting the platforms that can drive more effective clinical trials, and giving people the right to see their own data.

Just as we’ve done all throughout this pandemic, we want to bring to bear expertise from both inside and outside the government. So, we want to hear from you about our plans, and about what more we can do to improve them. We want you to be in control.

Our plan of action contains big ambitions, but there’s no better time to act. Our shared experience of this pandemic has shown us the prize that’s on offer. Now we must bottle the spirit we’ve seen and use the full power of data to deliver real solutions to the new challenges ahead.

Rt Hon Matt Hancock MP
Secretary of State for Health and Social Care

Executive summary

In England and in every community around the world, digital developments have been essential to the pandemic response. People have accessed advice and care remotely in unprecedented numbers, helping keep them and their families safe. World class genomics helped identify and track new variants. Daily analysis allowed problems to be understood rapidly, and resources redeployed. Staff worked remotely. And the COVID-19 vaccination service was mobilised in record time.

Such an efficient and effective response was only possible because of investment in digital systems, innovation and skills over the last few years, and the partnerships forged between digital, clinical and operational colleagues.

The opportunity now is for the health and care sector to apply such approaches with increased urgency and consistency to both our long-term challenges and to the immediate tasks of rebuilding from the pandemic. We have a responsibility to do both.

The Digital Transformation Plan sets out the overarching vision for how we will digitise, connect and transform the health and care sector. This data strategy explains in more detail the role that data will play in that transformation and how it can inspire effective collaboration across the NHS, adult social care, and public health, help us care for people in the best possible way, and ensuring that our citizens have the best experience possible when using the system.

There are 3 key priorities which underpin this strategy:

  • first to build understanding on how data is used and the potential for data-driven innovation, improving transparency so the public has control over how we are using their data
  • second to make appropriate data sharing the norm and not the exception across health, adult social care and public health, to provide the best care possible to the citizens we serve, and to support staff throughout the health and care system
  • third to build the right foundations – technical, legal, regulatory – to make that possible

We know that this will be a long and complex task. The health and care system is vast – with every facet important – and parts of it are at different stages of their data transformation journey. The COVID-19 pandemic has had a huge impact in accelerating this process, but legacy systems and less efficient ways of working will be a barrier to change. Patients, service users, clinicians, carers, analysts, researchers and innovators from across health and care have individualised and personalised needs and priorities.

But we cannot ignore that these are challenges worth taking on and we are not beginning with a blank page. A meaningful collaboration has already been initiated to promote our data and digital capabilities across the system.

Each chapter of this strategy describes our vision for the future of health and adult social care data – for citizens, for staff, for decision makers, researchers, developers and innovators – and the commitments required to achieve that vision.

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