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Health minister launches code of conduct for health tech data

The code of conduct – focused around data-driven tech such as AI – aims to deepen trust between researchers, innovators, patients and clinicians, according to health minister James O’Shaughnessy

The government has launched a code of conduct for data-driven technology to encourage companies to “meet a gold-standard set of principles” to protect patient data.

The code, which was announced by health minister James O’Shaughnessy at the NHS Expo in Manchester on 5 September, aims to ensure the NHS and citizens have a good relationship with technology companies in the future and are able to trust them.

It sets out 10 principles on what the NHS expects from industry and how the government is going to make it easier for industry to work with the health service. 

The conduct also aims to set clear guidelines on how NHS data should and is being protected, but also allow the “best data-driven technologies” to bring benefits to patients and staff across the NHS.

It’s particularly focused on using technology such as artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning to tackle some of the key diseases facing the UK population, such as cancer, dementia and obesity. 

In the code, the government said it’s committed to build a “safe ecosystem for digital health and intelligent algorithms”. 

The code said there are “truly remarkable data-driven innovations, apps and clinical decision support tools supported by intelligent algorithms, and the widespread adoption of electronic health records,” and that new and emerging technologies must be “harnessed in a safe, evidenced and transparent way”.

However, it added that complex algorithms also bring two central challenges, such as defining data and structure to ensure it’s interoperable and used “appropriately, safely and securely”.

Launching the code, O’Shaughnessy said innovation in AI and machine learning are both moving “at lightning speed and has tremendous potential across the health sector”.  

“That is why I am pleased to announce that we have launched our initial technology partnerships code of conduct – 10 principles which set out the rules of engagement between industry and the health and care system. These principles provide a basis to deepen the trust between patients, clinicians, researchers and innovators,” he said.

“This is an important first step towards creating a safe and trusted environment in which innovation can flourish to the benefit of all our health.”

The code, which the government said is in its “initial version”, will develop over time through feedback from researchers, innovators, the public and the NHS.

“As of now, the code is voluntary, but any organisation that wishes to sign up to the code immediately can, and is encouraged to. We want to ensure that we give our stakeholders the opportunity to co-design the final version with us,” the code document said.

“We want the code to be something that technology providers want to sign up to, to demonstrate their world-leading approach.”

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