Open letter from NHS medical leaders to patients and the public

As frontline clinicians with extensive experience of working in the NHS, we have all felt the frustrations when systems, processes, and people don’t talk to each other as well as they should. 

Sometimes, these are the frustrations of patients needing to repeat their medical history whenever they need to use a different part of the NHS. In others, it is the time wasted cross-checking and logging in to different systems to access information about the individuals in our care.

Our patients come to the NHS at some of the most vulnerable points in their lives, and they want to know that our healthcare teams have access to the best possible information when it comes to their treatment.

The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the crucial role of joined-up data in solving some of these issues. The success of the NHS response was closely tied to the rigorous interrogation of local data – allowing us to deliver the largest and the most precise vaccination programme in NHS history.

This efficient and effective response was only possible because of investment in connected digital systems. We have been working closely with NHS England to pilot and test a range of use cases for a ‘federated data platform’ (FDP) – a piece of software that makes it easier to safely use existing NHS data that is currently stored in separate systems to tackle some of the big challenges our health service now faces.

This new tool will allow us to better manage the data we currently hold in trusts and regions, and apply the lessons learned from the vaccination campaign to deliver faster, more informed patient care, help drive elective recovery, and contribute to long-term challenges like population health management.

As part of this testing, we have looked at how we collect information on hospital bed availability so that we can better manage pressures in urgent and emergency care, how we drill down into the information about those on our waiting lists so that we optimise surgical theatre use and outpatient clinics, and how we better manage the availability of medical supplies. Pilot sites across the country have seen waiting times for planned care fall, discharge delays go down, and diagnoses and treatment times speed up.

For example, since introducing the system, North Tees and Hartlepool Trust has reduced long term stays by 36% despite increased demand.

We recognise some people may have reservations about the FDP, and we encourage an open conversation to address these concerns. Those who access patient data daily know this is an exercise in trust. As clinicians, we take it extremely seriously. The federated data platform is categorically not about collecting new data and is instead about using what we already have better. The platform incorporates robust, world-leading data security measures, including purpose-based access controls and an extensive audit trail for accountability.

The use of the data in the FDP will always remain under the full control of the NHS, and therefore under the stringent legal frameworks in place in the UK. The chosen software provider will not hold or have access to NHS data for their own purposes, and just as now your data will never be provided to third parties for anything other than those things you consent to.

We recognise that some people will want further assurances. That is why over the coming months, there will be in-depth, national engagement on the use of health data, listening to the public and professions on a large scale as part of the Department of Health and Social Care’s Data Strategy.

Our endorsement of the FDP is based on our extensive experience and involvement in pilot initiatives, where we have witnessed the potential benefits of this technology in optimising medical practices, improving patient outcomes and ensuring the security of healthcare data.

In our experience, the FDP has the potential to redefine healthcare delivery by optimising efficiency, empowering clinicians and patients, and enhancing data security. Embracing this innovation will allow us to embark on an era of elevated patient care where data becomes a cornerstone of informed medical decisions.

List of signatories

  • Dr Alan McGlennan FRCA, Chief Medical Officer, The Hillingdon Hospitals
  • Dr Vanessa Purday, Chief Medical Officer and Responsible Officer Consultant Anaesthetist, Lewisham and Greenwich NHS Trust
  • Dr Peter Wilson, Chief Medical Officer – University Hospitals Dorset
  • William L.G. Oldfield MSc PhD FRCP, Chief Medical Officer, Consultant in Respiratory Medicine, Kingston Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, Hounslow and Richmond Community Healthcare NHS Trust
  • Dr Angela Tillett, Chief Medical Officer and Acting Deputy Chief Executive, East Suffolk and North Essex NHS Foundation Trust
  • Dr Subhro Banerjee, Consultant Emergency Medicine, Medical Director and Caldicott Guardian, Croydon Health Services
  • Jeremy Rushmer, Consultant in Intensive Care Medicine and Anaesthesia, Executive Medical Director, Northumbria Healthcare
  • Andy Welch OBE FRCS Medical Director, Deputy Chief Executive Newcastle Hospitals
  • Dr Ian Benton, Deputy Medical Director, Consultant in Respiratory and General Internal Medicine, Countess of Chester Hospital, Honorary Senior Clinical Lecturer, University of Liverpool Medical School
  • Edward Morris CBE FRCOG, Regional Medical Director and Chief Clinical Information Officer, NHS England – East of England Region
  • Dr Chris Streather, Regional Medical Director and CCIO, Medical and Digital Transformation Directorate, NHS England, London Region
  • Michael Marsh, Regional Medical Director NHS England, South West
  • Dr Matthew Lewis, Executive Medical Director, University Hospitals of North Midlands NHS Trust
  • Adrian Clements, Medical Director, North Cumbria Integrated Care NHS Foundation Trust
  • Gisella Robinson, Medical Director, University Hospitals of Derby and Burton NHS Foundation Trust
  • Roger Chinn, Chelsea and Westminster, Chief Medical Officer, Responsible Officer and CCIO, Chelsea and Westminster Hospital NHS Foundation Trust.