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Health and care white paper outlines data sharing plans

12/02/21

Mark Say Managing Editor

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The government is planning to pass legislation to support data sharing in the health and care system, as part of the reforms outlined in its new white paper for the sector.

Drawing of laptops sharing files

The Integration and Innovation document, published by the Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC), says this should support better integration and enable the digital transformation of care pathways.

Its section on data sharing says the department is exploring a number of relevant proposals. These include requiring health and adult social care organisations to share anonymised information they hold when it would benefit the whole system, and requiring all adult social care providers to provide data on all of their services.

This would be accompanied by changes to NHS Digital’s legal framework, imposing a duty to have regard to data sharing in health and social care when exercising its functions, and to clarify the purpose for which it can use data.

In addition, the secretary of state for the sector would be given a power to mandate standards for how data is collected and stored so that it flows through the system in a usable way.

The white paper says that none of the measures will erode the protection of personal information.

ICSs' importance

It also points towards further integration of care both within the NHS and its collaboration with other bodies, notably local authorities. This is likely to increase the importance of statutory integrated care systems (ICSs), taking in an NHS body and health and care partnership in each relevant area, with the former taking on the commissioning functions of clinical commissioning groups and some of those of NHS England.

In publishing the white paper, DHSC said the package of reforms will enable the health and care sector to make better use of technology. It also said they would make integrated care the default, reduce legal bureaucracy, and better support social care, public health and the NHS.

It highlighted the aim of supporting social care through updating the legal framework for person-centred models of hospital discharge and enabling the secretary of state to directly make payments to adult social care providers where required.

The government plans to publish separate proposals on social care reform later this year.

Other major features include: only requiring the NHS to tender services when it could lead to better outcomes for patients; making the Healthcare Safety Investigations Branch a statutory body; and folding the NHS Trust Development Authority into NHS England.

Going with the grain

Sir Simon Stevens, chief executive of the NHS, said: “Our legislative proposals go with the grain of what patients and staff across the health service all want to see – more joined up care, less legal bureaucracy and a sharper focus on prevention, inequality and social care.

“This legislation builds on the past seven years of practical experience and experimentation across the health service and the flexible ‘can do’ spirit NHS staff have shown in spades throughout the pandemic.”

Image from iStock, Eichinger Julien

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