Goldacre Review into health data calls for modern open working methods

Professor Ben Goldacre’s review into the use of health data for research and analysis has called for increased transparency and the adoption of modern open working methods.

Goldacre, director at the University of Oxford’s Bennett Institute, was commissioned to undertake the review in February 2021 to improve care through the use of data.

The report Better, Broader, Safer: Using Health Data for Research and Analysis calls NHS data “deeply buried treasure, that can help prevent suffering and death, around the planet, on a biblical scale.”

It adds that continuing with current working practices would mean “accepting a huge hidden cost of duplication, outdated working methods, data access monopolies, needless risk and, above all, missed opportunities.”

The report makes 185 recommendations, including increasing data transparency by adopting Trusted Research Environments (TREs) as secure virtual spaces for researchers, improving opportunities for data analysts within the NHS and encouraging open working for all NHS data analysis.

WHY IT MATTERS

Goldacre’s review highlights the global importance of NHS data collected over 73 years on tens of millions of patients from an ethnically diverse population.

“Because of this diversity, analytic outputs created from NHS data can help save lives around the world. The combined GP records of the nation, as just one example, cover every person in the country; they go back many decades; and they capture some information for nearly every contact with health services, with huge detail on prescriptions, treatments, blood tests, referrals, and diagnoses,” the report continues.

THE LARGER CONTEXT

The Goldacre Review was commissioned to inform the forthcoming NHS data strategy, which was published in draft form in June 2021.

Goldacre also co-led a study on behalf of NHS England analyzing the electronic health records (EHRs) of 17.4 million UK adults, to examine the risk factors associated with death from COVID-19.

ON THE RECORD

Goldacre said: “NHS data is a phenomenal resource that can revolutionize healthcare, research, and the life sciences. But data alone is not enough. We need secure, efficient platforms – and teams with skills – to unlock this potential. This will be difficult, technical work. It is inspiring to see momentum grow for better, broader, safer use of health data across so many sectors.”

Health and social care secretary, Sajid Javid, said: “As we move forwards, millions of patients could benefit from the more efficient use of health data, through boosting innovation and ensuring the NHS can continue to offer cutting-edge care, saving lives. ”

Dr Layla McCay, director of policy, NHS Confederation, said: “Over the last two years the NHS has been empowered to innovate at pace, developing revolutionary technology and innovative treatments in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Goldacre Review represents an opportunity to build on these hard-won gains and is an important piece of the puzzle for setting the direction of health research in a post-pandemic healthcare system.”

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