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Independent review calls to improve data transparency  

Professor Ben Goldacre, Bennett Professor of Evidence-Based Medicine at the University of Oxford has published his findings from the independent review into the NHS, on how they can achieve better and safer use of health data.  

The review was launched on the 9th February 2021 and sits alongside the NHS Data Strategy, tasked to identify the strategic or technical blockers found within the NHS. 

There are 185 recommendations set out in the review which advise the government how to utilise health data better in healthcare.  

Health and Social Care Secretary, Sajid Javid, said: “Countless lives have been saved through the pandemic after health data enabled ground-breaking research. 

“As we move forwards, millions of patients could benefit from the more efficient use of health data, through boosting innovation and ensuring the NHS can continue to offer cutting-edge care, saving lives. 

“I want to thank Professor Ben Goldacre, his team, and all those who contributed to this review - this work, alongside our upcoming data strategy, will help to transform the NHS on our road to recovery.” 

Among the recommendations set out, Goldacre has advised increasing data transparency through adopting Trusted Research Environments (TREs) as secure virtual spaces for verified researchers to access health data. This will look to reduce the risk of data breaches. 

Also advised was an improvement to opportunities within data analysis in the NHS. Professor Goldacre suggested that jobs are modernised by improving salaries, training and structure. 

Professor Ben Goldacre said: “NHS data is a phenomenal resource that can revolutionise healthcare, research, and the life sciences. But data alone is not enough. We need secure, efficient platforms - and teams with skills - to unleash this potential. This will be difficult, technical work. It is inspiring to see momentum grow for better, broader, safer use of health data across so many sectors. 

The review also outlines the need to bridge the gap between health research and software development through the following means: 

  • Training academic researchers and NHS analysts in modern computer data science techniques. 

  • Offer ‘onboarding’ training for software developers and data scientists who are entering health services research and epidemiology 

  • Use in-person and online training; make online resources openly available where possible. 

It also offers four improvements in governance, including developing clear rules around the use of NHS patient records in the performance management of NHS organisations. 

To conclude the review Goldacre states that real investment into platforms and curation are needed in order to stop the temporary fixes that are currently happening across the NHS and look to adopt a new unified approach which will help to achieve better services and improve patient care.  

You can read the full review here. 

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