Long-awaited NHS information strategy ‘could mean better data linking’

Chief executive of the NHS Information Centre says health service needs more than just raw datasets

Better linking of data is likely to become more widespread after the Department of Health publishes its information strategy, according to Tim Straughan, chief executive of the NHS Information Centre.

The government’s long-awaited information strategy has been delayed a number of times since plans for an “information revolution” were first outlined in October 2010. Straughan believes its publication will lead to data being better shared and used to give an improved insight into the effects of healthcare decisions.

“People don’t just want to see raw datasets, they don’t just want to see raw information, they want to see information and data that’s linked together across a number of care settings that starts to link input data with output data,” he told the HC2012 conference in London. “For example, what does somebody do to something in terms of an intervention, and what difference does it make?”

Providing more linked data would allow the health service to demonstrate good practice, as well as helping to transform health and social care, he told delegates.

The NHS Information Centre is set to launch a GP data extraction service from September. Straughan said it will start a flow of GP data across the whole of the NHS, allowing it to answer specific questions around GP data.

The centre will also be launching a service that takes GP data and starts to join it up with secondary care data and a number of other sources.

“People will start to be able to ask questions, ‘Actually how does one part of care transcribe into another?’ We can start to really challenge our system and ask, ‘Are we tracking people, are we getting the best possible outcomes for our patients?'” Straughan said.

The NHS commissioning board will direct the centre on what data should be used, according to Straughan. The board will also outline what standards should be adhered to and approve the signing off of data projects.

Straughan outlined the plans ahead of new powers that will be handed to the NHS Information Centre when it becomes a non-departmental public body in April 2013 under the Health and Social Care Act.

Under the act, the centre will get new powers around collecting, processing, linking and analysing data, and in certain circumstances it will be allowed to handle patient identifiable data – one of many sticking points when the government was attempting to get the bill passed. Straughan said that in these cases it will anonymise and pseudonymise information and “push it out in a responsible way”.

He also confirmed that the government is looking at how its role can be expanded to take on wider national IT systems as the government focuses on life after the National Programme for IT.

This article is published by Guardian Professional. For weekly updates on news, debate and best practice on public sector IT, join the Guardian Government Computing network here.

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