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 A new health and social care data strategy has been published by the government, which is keen to “bottle the spirit” seen during the pandemic and use the “full power of data” for the challenges ahead.

The timing of the publication is somewhat ironic – being the day before an initial deadline for patients wanting to opt out of a major data-sharing scheme between GPs and NHS Digital, only for the project to be delayed for two months after outcry from professional bodies and campaigners.

In any case, the new strategy sets a direction of travel for the NHS in terms of how it should unlock the undisputed benefits of the vast amount of data within it.

At the strategy’s heart are legislative proposals to give the secretary of state the power to mandate data standards, a new “duty” for health and social care organisations to share data (including identifiable patient data), and a longer-term aspiration to enable data-sharing for purposes such as invoicing, commissioning, policy development, audit and risk stratification.

It is hoped this will eventually lead to an environment where patients can access all their NHS data in one place, and where NHS and social care staff can access all the appropriate data needed without any barriers.

If you think this sounds familiar, you’re right. The strategy contains several aspirations also found in previous attempts to improve the NHS’ use of data, including (2013) and Matt Hancock’s “vision for a more tech-driven NHS” (2018).

But with the pandemic having rammed home the importance of data to the public, the appetite for change looks larger now than previously. 

From speaking up to moving on

The national champion for ‘speaking up’ in the NHS has announced she is to quit after five years in the role.

Henrietta Hughes is stepping down as the national guardian for the Freedom to Speak Up programme to lead a children’s mental health charity.

Dr Hughes was the second appointee to the national guardian position – which was recommended by Sir Robert Francis’ report into whistleblowing in the NHS in 2015.

More than 50,000 cases have been raised to Freedom to Speak Up Guardians since they were established, with numbers of referrals increasing every year. There are now more than 700 Freedom to Speak Up Guardians across more than 400 healthcare organisations.

Dr Hughes, announcing her departure, praised the “courage” of NHS staff who have listened, and also those who have listened and followed up on concerns.

Sir Robert has praised Dr Hughes for making a “massive contribution” towards changes the NHS has made for patients over the past five years.