Call for data-sharing system to help emergency responders

Public-sector staff such as paramedics, police officers and volunteer responders need a data-sharing system, an O2 roundtable said

A system is needed to share data between public-sector organisations such as the police and the ambulance service and volunteer community responders, it was suggested at an O2 roundtable.

The telecoms giant invited organisations such as Community First Responders, Lowland Rescue and the National Search and Rescue Dog Association to identify technology problems they face in the field, such as insufficient communications, lack of means to transfer data, and lack of social awareness of the work of volunteers.

Roundtable attendee Marc Lister, a paramedic and community responder, said data-sharing between the police and the ambulance service could help to protect local volunteers who might be first on the scene of an emergency involving a potentially dangerous person.

“If a volunteer walks into a scene that’s actually violent, it is their life that could be at risk,” said Lister.

It was suggested that police might have information about a person whose address a responder is called to, but the ambulance service might not.

“If I was out yesterday in an ambulance, I wouldn’t have known if I was going to a known drug dealer – there is no cross-communication,” Lister said.

It was also suggested that this data-sharing problem exists within the NHS itself. “That joined-up scenario doesn’t even work with regard to GP notes and hospital notes,” Lister said.

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He explained that because of a lack of data-sharing across the NHS, an ambulance crew may not have much information about a patient it is attending in an emergency.

As a result, paramedics may have to ask the patient for their details when they arrive at the scene, including their identity and any previous medical conditions.  

He also highlighted the fact that Community First Responders volunteers and ambulance staff often have to exchange paperwork, something that could easily be digitised.

“I was told electronic patient report forms were going to come to fruition when I started in 1998,” said Lister. “They are only being trialled now.”

Digitisation of health records has long been planned by the NHS, and health secretary Jeremy Hunt recently reiterated his plans for a paperless NHS by the year 2018 through the use of compatible digital records.

He also announced the launch of digital GP patient records, which enable patients to access their records electronically, a plan first announced in 2012.

The hope is that digital records will make it easier to share data between GP surgeries and hospitals.

The care.data scheme would eventually use these records to provide “consistent” care across the country and use anonymised portions of data to identify where research and investment is most needed.

But the programme was put on hold last year after concerns over a lack of clarity and publicity about how patients’ personal data will be used.

Read more on Privacy and data protection

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