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A new culture of data sharing in health and social care


Covid-19 has prioritised an increase in sharing data and hybrid cloud will be a big facilitator, writes Andrew Puddephatt, director, UK public sector, Nutanix

While nobody will have fond memories of the Covid-19 pandemic, it has had some positive effects on the outlook for using digital and data in health and social care – and highlighted the value of cloud solutions.

It has thrown a focus on the need for sharing data between organisations, not just local authorities and those in the NHS, but the community groups and voluntary organisations that have made a major contribution to the pandemic response.

People in health and social care who have previously been ambivalent about the issue have begun to see it as a major priority, making them more open to share their own data and raising expectations around what they can obtain from others. And it has become clear that cloud services play a major role in facilitating the change, providing an operating model for making data and applications available on a controlled basis with the appropriate partners.

A consensus around this was quickly established in a recent UKA Live discussion in which I took part with Sam Smith, current president of Socitm, Mark Gannon, director of business change and information solutions at Sheffield City Council, Andrew Boxall, head of technology at Shropshire Council, and UKA publisher Helen Olsen Bedford.

Progress and complications

Audience polls reflected positive progress: three-quarters of respondents said they had been able to obtain all the data they needed from internal and external sources, especially from councils and local NHS bodies.

But the discussion also highlighted issues that have be addressed in making further progress, both in gearing up for a second wave of Covid-19 and looking for long term improvements in care.

Underlying these is the fact that both will depend heavily on combining data from a wider range of systems, and this becomes increasingly complex, placing demands on the technical interoperability, data standards and the information governance needed to enable sharing.

The discussion highlighted that, despite various initiatives to create appropriate data standards, there is still plenty to be done, and inconsistencies to resolve between health and social care. Some data sharing efforts are undermined by the absence of a common unique identifier, as not all organisations have yet attached unique property reference numbers to key datasets. There is also a feeling among some in local government that existing standards respond largely to the needs of the NHS and in some cases are not aligned with what councils need.

The technical issues often derive from a reliance on legacy applications that were not built for interoperability. The drive to develop APIs has made some progress in releasing the data from those siloes, but this is often dependent on the willingness and capabilities of the vendor and can create new levels of complexity.

Technical debt

It reflects a growing awareness of technical debt, in which organisations are using systems that were right for the way things worked in the past but will not be fit for best practice in the future. Many organisations are looking to reduce the debt, but it is a lengthy and expensive process and they have to find an equilibrium to be effective in the short to medium term.

Another audience poll during the discussion indicated that the major barriers are data being stuck in legacy silos, lack of interoperability between systems, poor data quality, insufficient data standards and  cultural obstacles – in each case recording scores of above 50% among respondents.

Two political/legal issues around data is held are adding to the complications. At the moment the outlook for ‘data adequacy’ arrangements between the UK and EU – which recognise adequate levels of protection for personal data held on the two sides – are unsettled, which could cause some problems in the use of cloud systems.

More importantly, a recent ruling by the European Court of Justice undermined the Privacy Shield, stating that US law is too weak to protect European citizen’s data, and there are fears that data residing in centres on UK soil but operated by US companies will not have sufficient protection surveillance and investigations.

Optimists see reasons for both of these to be settled – the former in the coming weeks – but they inject an element of uncertainty which affect planning around the use of cloud services, and in turn the scope for data sharing. This is going to apply to contingencies for further disruption for the pandemic and long term ambitions for dealing with other problems such as inequalities in care.

A source of support

Nutanix is well placed to help organisations navigate these factors, with experience in working with central and local government and the NHS on utilising cloud services for sensitive data – extending to official and secret information. It acknowledges the instinct to keep some data on-premise or in a private cloud, but also sees great potential in the public cloud for an agile approach to managing data and applications.

It can work with organisations to help develop the appropriate model to support their operations, identifying where specific data should reside to provide resilience and accessibility, and ensuring it comes at the right costs.

New challenges are likely to arise for health and social care, effective data sharing will be a big part of the response, and cloud services will be a major facilitator. It needs a clear focus on where the data should reside and getting the balance right for a hybrid cloud model, with the flexibility to change that balance to meet specific demands.

Download the UKAuthority & Nutanix white paper: A digital silver lining on the Covid-19 cloud

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UKAuthority in partnership with Nutanix has recently published a briefing paper 'A digital silver lining on the Covid-19 cloud'. To download complete the form 

A digital silver lining on the Covid-19 cloud is part of series of reports and briefing notes from our virtual round tables with Nutanix on the theme of transformation. Catch up with the research stream here


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