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Goldacre report makes recommendations for data analysis in healthcare

08/04/22

Mark Say Managing Editor

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Healthcare needs trusted research environments, better opportunities for data analysts and a modernised software infrastructure, according to a new review of data analysis in the sector.

The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) has highlighted these as key findings of the review led by Professor Ben Goldacre.

They are among 185 recommendations in the paper emerging from the review, titled Better, broader and safer: using health data for research and analysis.

DHSC highlighted a handful of proposals, including that the health service adopt trusted research environments. These would provide secure virtual spaces for verified researchers to access potentially sensitive data, and could be used to impose standards on how commonly used datasets are stored and curated.

Another is to improve opportunities for data analysts in the NHS by modernising their job and career development, improving salaries and spreading best practice. This would include the cration of an NHS Analyst service modelled on the Government Economic Service and Statistical Service, with a head of profession, clear job descriptions and progression opportunities.

Open working

There should also be an effort to encourage open working in analysis through the use of a shared library of tools, which could also reduce duplication and improve the consistency of results.

DHSC also pointed to recommendation to modernise software infrastructure to boost research. This would involve UK Research and Innovation providing standalone funding for software projects for software projects and developers working on health data.

Other recommendations include: the promotion of ‘reproducible analytical pathways’ (RAPs) as the minimum standard for academic and NHS analysis; ensuring all code for data curation paid for by the state is shared openly; creating an online library for NHS data curation code; strengthening governance through steps such as creating one map for all approvals processes and developing clear rules on the use patient records in performance management of NHS bodies.

The review asserts that data is still an under-utilised resource in the NHS and that there has to be a more coherent approach to its curation, along with a small number of secure platforms on which it can be stored and used for analysis.

Phenomenal resource

Goldacre commented: “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.”

DHSC said its response will be included in the upcoming health and social care data strategy, a draft of which was published in June of last year.

Goldacre is director of the Bennett Institute for Applied Data Science and Bennett professor of evidence based medicine at the Nuffield Department of Primary Health Sciences.

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