White House deputy CTO praises NHS open-data strategy

The deputy CTO of the White House, Chris Vein, is working with the NHS to pass on experiences of making data more open in the public sector

The NHS is working with the US government to pioneer open-data strategies in the US public sector.

This was the claim of Chris Vein, deputy US chief technology officer for government innovation – working in the executive office of the president at the White House – during a presentation at this week’s Dreamforce conference in San Francisco.

Chris Vein has been working on a number of projects in the US similar to the UK’s data.gov.uk project. The aim is to open up non-personal government datasets for the use of both public and private sector organisations for free.

In the UK the open-data plan is in its early stages. However, in the US, datasets are already being put to use. One such example is a scheme providing data to the police and fire departments, so they can see where events are most likely and raise their presence in those areas.

Vein had high praise for the UK and especially the NHS. He said he had been in discussions with the NHS to share experiences of open-data projects with a view to collaborating on promoting open-data initiatives.

“I know in the National Health Service, there is a lot of stuff going on,” Vein told Computer Weekly. “You guys have just gone through a major reorganisation, you have got major influx of new talent and you are starting to build successes and success stories.

“You guys are the new chair of the open-government partnership. As a result you are taking a leadership role and there are lots of things on the drawing board that are going to be huge internationally.”

Vein singled out Tim Kelsey, previously the executive director of transparency and open data at the Cabinet Office, but appointed the national director for patients and information at the NHS in July this year.

Vein said Kelsey had been responsible for opening up data such as death rates in heart surgery, focusing doctors' attention on reducing numbers.

Vein mentioned the disaster of the national programme for IT (NPfIT), which was scrapped in 2011 after £12bn of investment. He said it didn’t give an optimistic view of the NHS, but said the lesson from the NPfIT lay in starting small.

“A project like that was too big, you need to start small with small datasets and then you can build a real success,” he concluded.

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