The must read stories and talking points from Wednesday

Data sharing 2.0

A new data service capable of recreating key elements of the controversial Care.data project is being developed by the National Information Board and could receive Treasury approval as early as next month, HSJ exclusively revealed on Wednesday.

The new “data services platform” will comprise IT infrastructure and software applications that will “collect, store, process and analyse patient level data” from health and social care providers, including primary care, according to a document seen by HSJ.

NHS Digital has started to show the proposals to potential suppliers, and a presentation produced for a market engagement event last month said the aim of the new programme is to “put in place effective services and activities to deliver ‘secondary’ uses of patient data”.

It is intended that the platform will feed into a “customer facing data access and analytics service”. This would make data available to customers with “legitimate requests” and would comply with “emerging national data standards for secondary use data” – a reference to the recommendations in the recent Caldicott report.

The outline business case for the new platform has been reviewed by the DH’s investment, assurance and approvals team, and following sign-off from the health secretary the programme will go to the Treasury for final approval. According to the document, this is likely to happen as soon as next month.

While the platform is not designed as a direct replacement for Care.data, a senior source warned “it could easily become that. The danger is that in doing so it could fall into exactly the same sort of problems that Care.data did”.

The Care.data programme became mired in controversy over how patient identifiable data would be collected and used, and was criticised for lack of clarity. It was put out of its misery in July, after costing £7.7m.

However, a source told HSJ, “the real cost of the Care.data legacy has been the setting back of data sharing arrangements across research and health planning for years”.

Legal challenge to A&E closure

United Lincolnshire Hospitals Trust could face a legal challenge against its decision to partially close the emergency department at Grantham and District Hospital.

The trust announced the decision to close the A&E overnight due to patient safety concerns over a shortage of doctors earlier this month. Since 17 August the department has been closed from 6.30pm to 9am.

Law firm Leigh Day confirmed to HSJ it is representing local campaign group SOS Grantham Hospital, which is fighting the three month closure.

The case is potentially significant as trusts consider service reconfigurations as part of regional sustainability and transformation plans, which are still being developed.

The campigners’ lawyers argue the decision to close the A&E was unlawful because it did not comply with guidance issued by the Department of Health around involving patients with changes in service delivery.

Trust medical director Suneil Kapadia said: “Due to a severe shortage of doctors, we had to make this difficult decision quickly, so it hasn’t been a perfect process. We didn’t act unilaterally and worked with NHS partners and other stakeholders where possible.

“As the closure is temporary and made quickly on the grounds of patient safety, unfortunately we were not able to consult the public. We are committed to involving the public and patients in our long-term plans and decisions.”