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New health data strategy announced for England


Patients in England will have greater access to GP records through the NHS App and power over how their data is used, following the launch of the new health in data strategy.

Data saves lives: reshaping health and social care with data, published by the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) today, contains commitments to simplify the opt-out processes 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 of 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’, setting out how the healthcare system will use patient data.

Javid also announced £25 million for rapid digitisation of social care to meet the commitment for at least 80% of social care providers to have digitised care records in place by March 2024, closing the “digital divide” between the NHS and social care.

WHY IT MATTERS

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

With an ambition for the NHS App to be a one-stop shop for health needs, the strategy commits to a target of 75% of the adult population to be registered to use the NHS App by March 2024.

THE LARGER CONTEXT

The strategy moves towards restoring public confidence in the use of health data, after a plan to share patients’ GP records with third parties was postponed indefinitely last year due to privacy fears.

In his recent review into 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 risks and earn public trust.

ON THE RECORD

Prof Goldacre said: “This is a momentous document, because it reaches beyond aphorisms and gets into crucial technical detail. The move to use TREs, in particular, is historic. TREs earn public trust by provably protecting patients’ privacy and by sharing detailed transparent audits of all data usage.”

NHS Digital CEO Simon Bolton said: “Our TRE is already supporting life-saving 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 security.”

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

Matthew Taylor, chief executive, NHS Confederation, said: “We welcome the ambition in this strategy for more adults to use the NHS App – this will help free up staff time and put more patients in control of their healthcare. However, with more than one in 10 adults in the UK not owning a smartphone, we need to be mindful about the risk of widening health inequalities.”



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