NHS to build on power of data used to save lives during the COVID-19 pandemic
Millions of patients are set to benefit from the revolutionary use of technology and life-saving lessons learned during the global Coronavirus pandemic as a new draft Data Strategy is published by the Department of Health and Social Care.
Over the last 18 months, data has saved lives and helped to ensure the NHS can provide better care to people suffering from COVID-19 and other health issues.
This has ensured doctors and nurses can deliver innovative support in the most-effective and efficient way.
By empowering frontline staff to share data for patient care in a secure way that preserves privacy, ground-breaking clinical trials were approved in record time.
And new services to care for people in their own homes were set up via remote digital monitoring, avoiding lengthy hospital stays.
We must do all we can to harness this potential and the changes brought about through this strategy will no doubt go on to save countless more lives in the future
This, in turn, enabled rapid research into COVID-19 treatments, such as dexamethasone, which has saved over a million lives around the world.
By rapidly speeding up the process to grant approvals for trials to get underway – which previously would have taken around 100 days – and giving researchers access to data in a safe and secure way, this world-leading trial led to the discovery of the first proven treatment to reduce Coronavirus mortality.
The proposed new Data Strategy, announced this week, will ensure people are able to view their medical records, and empower them to keep a track of their health information.
Former Health and Social Care Secretary, Matt Hancock, said: “Data saves lives.
“We need to learn from the pandemic to improve the way our health and care system processes data, giving power to patients and enabling clinicians to use data in new ways to improve patient care and support research for innovative treatments.
“This pandemic has shown us just how many lives can be saved through effective use of data.
“And we must do all we can to harness this potential and the changes brought about through this strategy will no doubt go on to save countless more lives in the future.”
We need to learn from the pandemic to improve the way our health and care system processes data, giving power to patients and enabling clinicians to use data in new ways to improve patient care and support research for innovative treatments
The Data Strategy also includes proposals to make the UK a leader in innovation-friendly regulation of AI technologies, developing unified standards for the efficacy and safety testing of AI solutions and streamlining the path to market AI technologies.
Trials being supported include those which aim to replace the need for two radiologists to review breast cancer scans by instead using one radiologist and AI, making the process faster and more efficient.
Looking to the future, the draft Data Strategy seeks to learn the lessons of the pandemic so the health and social care sectors can use data to design and deliver better services for the public and improve care outside of a pandemic situation.
Matthew Gould, chief executive of NHSX, said: “Data saves lives, and has saved thousands of lives in the past year.
“Safe access to a patient’s data allows a doctor to make the right diagnosis and offer patients the right treatment.
“The new strategy will set out our vision to go further, to learn from the pandemic, to save more lives with data, to use technology to ensure patient privacy is even better protected, and to give patients more control of their health records.”
Martin Landray, Professor of medicine and epidemiology at the Nuffield Department of Population Health at the University of Oxford and the clinical trials lead at Health Data Research UK, added: “Within 100 days, the RECOVERY trial found that a low-dose steroid treatment called dexamethasone reduced the risk of death by a third for patients on ventilators.
It is a challenge, but one we have to take on, because the future of all of our care depends on robust knowledge on whether treatments work or do not work
“It was the world’s-first Coronavirus treatment proven to save lives; and estimates are that it may have saved many hundreds of thousands of lives.
“Pre-COVID, it would have taken 100 days to even get permission to go ahead with the trial.
“We cannot go back. It is a challenge, but one we have to take on, because the future of all of our care depends on robust knowledge on whether treatments work or do not work.”
Commenting on the launch, Dr Jonathan Pearson-Stuttard, partner and head of health analytics at Lane Clark & Peacock, told BBH: “Legitimate use of patient level anonymised data has been crucial to many advances across healthcare in recent years.
“Taking a population health approach to health and health-related data, as outlined in the draft Data Strategy can help target resources proportionately to health need, which will be vital to fulfil the Government’s levelling-up manifesto pledge.”
And Paul Barth, global head of data literacy at Qlik, adds: "The Government's draft policy paper is a constructive and thorough commitment to reforming the healthcare system through the use of data.
"Ultimately, the NHS can only provide the best-possible care if staff have access to the right information at the right time.
"Last year, research from Qlik and Accenture revealed that just 29% of UK employees felt fully prepared to work with data in their current role; and with this greater emphasis being placed on digital work, it's crucial that NHS staff fully understand how to read, work with, and understand data.
"It's encouraging to see that the Government recognises the need to provide a digital skills framework to identify what good digital working looks like; moreover, that they are supporting this with training opportunities to improve data and digital literacy in the healthcare sector.