Every day, NHS staff and clinicians are delivering care in new and innovative ways, achieving better outcomes for patients and driving efficiency. Scaling and sharing these innovations across the health and care system in England is a key challenge for the NHS.
Ming Tang and Tim Ferris explain why NHS England is investing in a data platform to support health and care organisations to make the most of the information they hold and to work together to understand patterns, solve problems and plan services for their local populations. Ultimately, the goal is to help the NHS transform the health and care of the people it serves.
COVID-19 has been a catalyst for change in the NHS. It sped-up our adoption of new, data-driven technologies which powered our pandemic response. Data identified those most vulnerable, made sure resources were moved to where they were most needed and informed research into treatments that saved lives. Data is now driving our recovery.
Digital, data and technology underpin so much of our lives; how we socialise, shop and work. But in the NHS, we are yet to harness this enormous potential in the way that other industries have. Currently only 20% of NHS trusts are considered digitally mature and yet we know that digitally mature providers operate with approximately 10% improved efficiency compared with their less digitally mature peers.
Harnessing the power of digital, data and technology is the key to recovering from the pandemic, addressing longer-term challenges, and delivering services in new and more sustainable ways.
The future of our NHS depends on improving how we use data to:
- care for our patients;
- improve population health;
- plan and improve services;
- research new medical treatments; and
- find new ways to deliver services.
Bringing up the bar
£2 billion has been allocated from the spending review to help digitise the NHS and social care sector to drive efficiency which, in turn, will release billions of pounds back into the NHS.
The Data saves lives; Reshaping health and care with data strategy (2022) committed us to invest further – to modernise our data architecture so that we don’t lose the capability we have developed over the last couple of years. One project vital to connecting NHS systems is our planned federated data platform which will replace the COVID-19 Data Platform (software is currently provided by Palantir).
A federated data platform
A ‘data platform’ refers to software which will enable NHS organisations to bring together operational data – currently stored in separate systems – to support staff to access the information they need in one safe and secure environment so that they are better able to coordinate, plan and deliver high quality care.
A ‘federated’ data platform means that every hospital trust and integrated care system (ICS) will have their own platform which can connect and collaborate with other data platforms as a “federation” making it easier for health and care organisations to work together.
A digitised, connected NHS can deliver services more effectively and efficiently, with people at the centre, leading to:
Better outcomes and experience for people
A more efficient NHS ultimately means a better service for patients, reduced waiting times and more timely treatment. The platform will provide ICSs with the insights they need to understand the current and future needs of their populations so they can tailor early preventative interventions and target health and care support. Patients will have more flexibility and choice about how and where they access services and receive care, helping them to stay healthy for longer.
Better experience for staff
NHS staff will be able to access the information they need in one secure place. This reduces the time they spend chasing referrals, scheduling appointments, and waiting for test results and allows them to work more flexibly to deliver high quality care for their patients.
Connecting the NHS
The connectivity of the platforms is extremely important as it will enable us to rapidly scale and share tools and applications that have been developed at a local level – in a secure way – supporting levelling up and reducing variation across England.
Federation means that each trust and ICS has a separate platform for which they are the data controller. Access for each platform will be governed and managed by each individual organisation. The software provider will not hold or have access to NHS data.
We want the NHS to be the best insight-driven health and care system in the world. This software will provide the foundation to improve the way that data is managed and used across the NHS in England to transform services and save lives.
Procuring a federated data platform will not only provide the cutting-edge software to trusts and ICSs to continue to innovate but the connectivity will enable us to rapidly scale and share innovative solutions that directly addresses the challenges most pressing for the NHS. This will transform the way the NHS delivers its services enabling organisations to communicate and collaborate more effectively and provide better care for patients.