The UK's new health data strategy

On 13 June 2022, the Department of Health and Social Care released its new Strategy for the use of health and social care data in the UK (Data saves lives: reshaping health and social care with data), which should be read in conjunction with the UK government's proposals for health and care integration and the Standards and Interoperability Draft Strategy. The UK also published a National AI Strategy last year which contains ambitious plans in terms of investment in, and regulation of, AI across all sectors, including health and social care.

During the pandemic a large part of the UK government's response was aided by increased data sharing and technological innovation. The aim of the Strategy is to “keep [that] momentum going” and make the NHS and the social care system more data driven, so that patients, health care professionals, researchers and society as a whole can benefit from the opportunities that cutting-edge technologies provide. A large focus of the Strategy is to digitise the health and social care records across the UK to drive greater efficiency in the NHS's service which will increase efficiencies and tackle the backlog of care that has built up due to COVID-19.

The Strategy seeks to improve how data is used for four specific purposes (direct care of individuals; the improvement of health’s population through the proactive targeting of services; planning and improvement of services; and research and innovation) that are further broken down into the following seven principles:

  • Improving trust in the health and care systems' use of data.
  • Giving health and care professionals the information they need to provide the best care.
  • Improving data for adult social care.
  • Supporting local decision makers with data.
  • Empowering researchers with the data they need to develop life changing treatments and diagnostics.
  • Working with partners to develop innovations that improve health and care.
  • Developing the right technical infrastructure.

Impact on NHS partnerships

Those organisations that partner with the NHS (such as life sciences companies) will be able to access NHS data in a way that is safe, lawful, ethical and transparent. Such access will be dictated by the following five principles:

  • Purpose: Any use of NHS data must have an explicit aim to improve the health, welfare or care of patients in the NHS, or the operation of the NHS.
  • Fairness: Arrangements must recognise and ensure the value of the data and the resources that are generated as a result of those arrangements.
  • Maximise data uses: NHS must be able to maximise the value or use of NHS data, at a national level, including the free flow of data within health and care, open standards and interoperability.
  • Transparency: Any arrangements agreed by NHS organisations should be transparent and clearly communicated.
  • Compliance: Arrangements must comply with applicable national level legal, regulatory, privacy and security obligations, including in respect of the National Data Guardian’s data security standards, the UK Data Protection Act 2018 and the common law duty of confidentiality.

NHS commitments

Amongst the wide range of NHS commitments listed in the Strategy, those which are more relevant to the data protection space include the following:

  • Develop a central portal for data partnerships guidance for healthcare leaders, and seek feedback ahead of a wider roll-out – in testing from January 2022.
  • Action the findings of the user research to embed the information governance portal as the one-stop shop for help and guidance – commenced from April 2022.
  • Review the Data Security and Protection Toolkit and its language to bring it into line with the NHS work to simplify information governance – by July 2022.
  • Deliver a full technical specification, drawing on industry best practices, including requirements to ensure interoperability, cyber security and the use of privacy enhancing technologies – by December 2022.
  • Deliver a comprehensive roadmap to ensure all partners across the system know how to implement the NHS framework, with clear indicative timescales and expectations for those at different readiness levels. This will include not only those delivering the transformation in the NHS but also software providers, academic and industry researchers, as well as funding agencies – by December 2022.
  • Work with the public to establish, for the first time, a data pact that will set out how  the NHS will use health and care data and what the public has the right to expect – by December 2022.
  • Publish the value-sharing framework, which will support the health system to deliver good data partnerships – by March 2023.
  • Develop commercial principles to ensure that partnerships for access to data for research and development have appropriate safeguards, and benefit the public and the NHS, and NHS Digital’s template contracts for access to data will be reviewed to ensure they are consistent with these principles – by December 2023.
  • Introduce a statutory power to enable health and adult social care public bodies to require anonymous information that relates to the provision of health and adult social care services in England – delivery date subject to Parliamentary processes. Please see paragraph 96, Part 2 of the Health and Care Act 2022 for further detail.

What next?

Over the next 6 months the UK Government will be working to implement the secure data environments as a default across the NHS, as well as set out a data pact, transparency documents and information governance guidance to bolster the new Strategy and its commitment to data protection.



Authored by Paula García.

Kathleen McGrath, a Knowledge Paralegal in our London office, contributed to this post.


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