Government opens up data on NHS, schools, criminal justice and transport

The government is opening up public data from the National Health Service, schools, criminal courts and transport as part of its transparency drive.

The government is opening up public data from the National Health Service, schools, criminal courts and transport as part of its transparency drive.

The past year has been about opening up data from government departments, and the next 12 months will be focused on opening up public services, said Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude, speaking at the Institute for Government.

The government aims to provide the public with more information about the performance of services, which will include: clinical achievements and prescribing data by individual GP practices; the performance of hospital teams in treating lung cancer; school performance broken down by subject; criminal sentencing by each court; data on rail timetables and service performance; current road conditions; and car parks and cycle routes. All of this information will be published in an open format for use by all, it said in a statement.

Changing public services for the better

In an open letter, the prime minister David Cameron said: "We recognise that transparency and open data can be a powerful tool to help reform public services, foster innovation and empower citizens. We also understand that transparency can be a significant driver of economic activity."

Maude said the data will help people find the right doctor for their needs or the best teacher for their child and will enable public sector workers to compare their performance.

"Making this kind of information accessible to all will change the way public services operate in the future. For example, it will give users control of their own records, and it will stimulate innovation and enterprise in the UK economy," he said.

Technology's role in open data

Also speaking at the Institute for Government, Bruce Keogh, NHS medical director and pioneer of heart surgery open data, said: "The future of healthcare will be determined by economics, public expectation and technology - and the most important aspect of that will be IT."

The future will involve patients having access to their own medical records, being able to choose their healthcare provider based on available information and book appointments online, he added.

Keogh said that under an open data system, poor practitioners will fall victim to transparency, while well-performing healthcare professionals will gain more recognition. "The combination of professional and public scrutiny is unassailable," he said.

"I think this will happen [quickly]. Today's announcement will accelerate that process and we in the NHS have to be ready for that," he said.

Delivering useful data

But there are concerns as to whether releasing a deluge of data could be put to meaningful use. Maude said the government would take a "demand-led" approach. "The US government had a reputation for putting out more data than anyone else. The slight criticism about its data sets is they weren't [always] what people were interested in," he said.

There are also issues surrounding the enforceability of data release. Earlier this year, Nottingham City Council refused to publish a list of its spending data for contracts over £500. Maude said the government was developing a strategy for enforcing the release this data by organisations.

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