Goldacre Report Makes Recommendations for Health Data Analytics

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Healthcare needs reliable research environments, better opportunities for data analysts and modernized software infrastructure, according to a new review of data analytics in the industry.

The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) highlighted these as the key findings of the review led by Professor Ben Goldacre.

They are among 185 recommendations in the review document, Better, wide and safer: using health data for research and analysis.

The DHSC highlighted a handful of proposals, including that the health service adopt trusted research environments. These would provide secure virtual spaces for verified researchers to access potentially sensitive data, and could be used to impose standards on how commonly used datasets are stored and maintained.

Another is to improve opportunities for NHS data analysts by modernizing their career and professional development, improving salaries and spreading best practice. This would include the creation of an NHS analyst service modeled on the government’s economic service and statistical service, with a head of profession, clear job descriptions and opportunities for progression.

open work

Efforts should also be made to encourage open working in analysis through the use of a shared library of tools, which could also reduce duplication and improve consistency of results.

The DHSC also highlighted the recommendation to modernize the software infrastructure to boost research. This would involve UK Research and Innovation providing stand-alone software project funding for software projects and developers working on health data.

Other recommendations include: promoting ‘repeatable analytical pathways’ (RAP) as a minimum standard for academic and NHS analysis; ensure that all state-paid data retention code is shared openly; create an online library for NHS data curation code; strengthen governance through steps such as creating a map for all approval processes and developing clear rules on the use of patient records in the performance management of NHS bodies.

The review says data is still an underused resource in the NHS and there needs to be a more consistent approach to its preservation, as well as a small number of secure platforms on which it can be stored and used to analysis.

Phenomenal resource

Goldacre commented: “NHS data is a phenomenal resource that can revolutionize healthcare, research and the life sciences.

“But data alone is not enough. We need secure and efficient platforms – and skilled teams – to unlock this potential. It will be hard and technical work. It is inspiring to see the momentum building for better, wider and safer use of health data in so many sectors.

The DHSC said its response will be included in the upcoming health and social services data strategy, a draft of which was released in June last year.

Goldacre is director of the Bennett Institute for Applied Data Science and Bennett Professor of Evidence-Based Medicine in the Nuffield Department of Primary Health Sciences.

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