GP record information will be opened up in the next six months as part of the Department of Health’s plan to release healthcare data.
“We will start to flow GP data across the NHS from September,” said Tim Straughan, chief executive of the NHS Information Centre, the central body responsible for overseeing NHS data.
Speaking at the BCS Health Informatics conference, Straughan said: “From September we are launching a linkage service that takes that data and links up with secondary care. So we can start to look at patients with oesophageal cancer, for example, and look at GP notes to see if there was any difficulty of slowing reported, and see if more could have been done earlier on.”
The news comes ahead of the Department for Health’s delayed Informatics Strategy, expected to be published later this month. Straughan said he couldn’t discuss the details of the strategy but could outline its key themes at a strategic level.
“In very broad terms information is an integral part of the service to patients and users, that is how we have to start thinking about how we work,” said Straughan.
Open data will be a big driver behind the strategy, he said.
“We are moving very quickly to routine publication of data in raw, machine-readable formats. So that it becomes a useful tool for people building apps,” said Straughan.
He said: “Feeding the market with this data will drive and stimulate it, but we have to protect confidentiality.
“There will be some unintended consequences, there always are, but we have to move forward.”
Patient control and access to health records will be a key area addressed in the strategy. “That is something that is really going to take off over the next few months and years. The technology is already there,” he said.
Straughan said 60% of patients were already able to access their own records but just 2% currently do so. “There will be a tipping point where we take much more responsibility for our own care.”
Information standards and interoperability will be another area it will address. “Standards will be a key role for the commissioning board so systems and technology can talk to each other,” said Straughan.
Under new plans, the Information Centre will become a non-departmental public body and will have powers to oversee the processing and linkage of information along with data anonymisation. It will oversee national systems remaining under the scaled down national programme for IT.
The centre will take its instructions from the NHS Commissioning Board, which will instruct it on what data should be released and will be responsible for approving standards, he said.
Also speaking at the conference, Mike Farrar, chief executive of the NHS Confederation – the membership body for commissioners and providers of NHS services – said data analysis could help the NHS save money.
“We need to look at existing data to see where we are wasting money. At the moment we are spending in a scatter gun way,” said Farrar.
Farrar said technological change required a cultural shift in organisations. He said some bodies had become resistant to new technologies, because of the “white noise” created by IT vendors.
“If it is pushed onto us externally, if we don’t own it, then you are going to cynical and sceptical,” he said.
“Informatics will support a hugely important change for NHS’ future – but if we are not pulling it but are sceptical, then that will be a barrier.”