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NHS England plans public communications effort over federated data platform


Mark Say Managing Editor

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Nicola Byrne
Nicola Byrne
Image source: GOV.UK, Open Government Licence v3.0

NHS England is developing a plan for communications around the development of a federated data platform (FDP) for the health service, according to the national data guardian.

Dr Nicola Byrne pointed to the plan along with a call for NHS England to be highly transparent about the intent and progress of the programme.

She also said the Professional Record Standards Body (PRSB) – which creates standards for health and social care records – has been commissioned to deliver an engagement project.

The FDP, a procurement process for which is underway, is intended to provide a data sharing platform to support the integration of care and has an estimated value of up to £480 million.

Byrne, whose role is to advise the health and social care system on the confidentiality of personal data, said in a blogpost NHS England has provided her with a plan for communications, and that getting the details right will be crucial.

“The interventions need to be meaningful, and people need chances to ask questions and get answers,” she said.

Awareness, understanding, support

She added that PRSB “will work with health and social care professionals and patient representative groups to consider how they can co-design the FDP and build greater awareness, understanding and support for the programme”, and that she hopes the level of engagement will be ongoing.

“These plans come later than I would have like, but they are a start and a step in the right direction, and I hope they can bring more balance and perspectives to the public discourse,” she said.

Byrne said that the FDP could have a transformative effect on the NHS, but that it has received some negative attention, especially around the potential of AI software company Palantir as supplier.

She pointed to a number of conditions for the public to support commercial involved in such projects, emphasising the importance of “authentic communications, engagement and transparency”.

“The most important thing is to try to ensure that communications from NHS England engage head-on with the questions and concerns people have been raising about the programme,” she said.

Three areas of effort

She identified three key areas for the communications effort: showing the likely benefits for patients; demonstrating the integrity of the decision making process; and providing credible assurance about the relationship with the future supplier.

The latter would be aimed at ensuring people feel confident that the NHS and not a commercial company is the driving seat of the programme. This will come partly from ensuring its workforce will be upskilled in digital, data and technology.

“I hope NHS England avoids any tendency towards overly cautious communications in the face of public criticism - for example, out of anxiety that responding to concerns will substantiate them or fuel them further,” Byrne added. “In my experience, guarded communications only further alienate those already inclined to distrust.”

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