Curating the NHS’s vast patient datasets could unlock medical breakthroughs and operational savings worth £9.6bn a year, according to a new report.
The auditing giant EY claimed the health service could dramatically improve patient care and deliver major benefits to the wider economy if it makes better use of its data.
The NHS is regarded as having one of the most comprehensive sets of patient data in the world, but the records are dispersed across the country and stored in a variety of formats.
The government has set out plans to make the NHS paperless by 2020 and trusts are now spending hundreds of millions of pounds on digitising records. Manchester University Foundation Trust alone has committed to spending £400m on a patient record system.
But Pamela Spence, an EY partner who contributed to the report, said that the value lies not in the data itself but in the way its used. “It’s in the power of the analytics and the clever insights that can be generated from algorithms, and the actions that can be taken as a result,” she said. “Value will come to those who can innovate to produce health outcomes tailored to individuals, with high degrees of precision and personalisation.”
The findings of the report are likely to reignite the debate over how government should extract value from NHS data. The Department for Health set out a series of code of conduct last year to guide how trusts work with technology companies. One of aims of the code is to “ensure the NHS and taxpayers get a good deal on future partnerships with technology companies”.
Some politicians have called on the government to derive greater value from tech companies granted access to NHS data beyond just free services. Darren Jones, a Labour MP and member of the science and technology committee, wrote for NS Tech last year: “I asked [Google DeepMind] whether they felt they should have paid something to access NHS data. I was told that value was derived from their services in helping the NHS use its data to better help patients.
“In my subsequent questions to the minister, I received the same answer. My suggestion – that the NHS employs data scientists to clean up data, and data managers to get the best commercial value for access to NHS data – was rejected.”