Northern Health Science Alliance calls on the Government to invest in local data sharing

A group of health data experts set up by the Northern Health Science Alliance is calling on the Government to invest in local data sharing to help the recovery from COVID-19 and prepare for future pandemics.

The Connected Health Cities (CHC) project in the North of England is calling for investment in the next phase of the local data sharing programmes and to build a resilient network for future readiness.

The group said it would be important so that the flow of data can help local communities take swifter, more decisive actions in tackling crises such as COVID-19.

Dr Séamus O’Neill, Chief Executive at the NHSA, said: “CHC is a proven model of work that has gained the trust of millions of people across the North and paved the way for 10 million shared health data records.”

“As lockdown measures start to become localised, the importance of regional data sharing innovations should be recognised, and invested in, by the Government.”

“CHC gave us ways to work locally for regional and national benefit. By applying this learning and investing in the next steps of the project, we can help ensure the health and social care systems are better prepared for future health crises and in a position to react and respond quickly based on the needs of the people and systems locally.”

The Government-funded CHC £20m pilot programme, which came to an end in March, has shown early indications of at least £150 million worth of cash savings in the North of England’s NHS and social care every year. CHC brought together 20 Acute NHS Trusts, over 500 GP Practices, 10 universities and the northern Academic Health Science Networks  to innovate and improve care through joint working from March 2016 to March 2020.

Professor Iain Buchan, Executive Dean, Institute of Population Health, University of Liverpool, Architect of CHC, said: “Civic partnerships of NHS, local government and academic organisations are sufficiently close to resident communities to earn their trust for sharing data at scale, to analyse the data in context and to understand how to act on the intelligence.”

“When these partnerships are sufficiently large – around 3m population coverage – they achieve economies of scale in data and analytics without breaking beyond the essential diameters of public trust, contextual understanding and manageable actions – COVID-19 has demonstrated the need for a national grid of these civic data cooperatives.”

“There was a disconnected early response to COVID-19 with NHS, public health and local government agencies out of sync, relying on national information systems that didn’t talk to each other. More recently, I have seen localities ramping up integrated data and intelligence to improve system-wide responses to COVID-19, especially in North England drawing on CHC experiences and prepared communities.”

“For better pandemic preparedness there needs to be a national grid of intelligence-led civic health and care systems – each with a critical mass of data analysts working together to understand their local system, combining NHS, public health, social care, research and other perspectives. Such a grid would afford distributed resilience for the UK, and a more powerful health data/tech innovation network.”

Dr Amanda Lamb, Director of Health Innovation Liverpool at University of Liverpool and Chief Operating Officer of CHC, added: “CHC was never solely about data. It was always about people and organisations working together to benefit the population with data as the substrate.”

“Involving the public more in the development of the narrative and solutions could have been used to greater effect.”

Professor John Wright, Director at Bradford Institute for Health Research and Director of CHC for Yorkshire and Humber, highlighted the need for data sharing to help combat all diseases: “In the background, we also have an epidemic of non-communicable disease such as heart disease, stroke, hypertension, obesity, and mental health, that we don’t apply a targeted data sharing approach to as we should do.”

“We need to apply lessons from an acute epidemic like COVID-19 to a chronic epidemic.”