The NHS is, hopefully, about to enter an era of much greater data sharing, and that sharing is likely to take place between a growing range of public and private organisations, as well as between patients and the service.
Done well and patients, the public and staff will all benefit. Done badly and we will quickly spiral into scandal, controversy and knee-jerk clampdowns.
Many clinical commissioning groups have shown a welcome and energetic desire to use data to drive their decisions. But, understandably, many are also not aware of the full range of responsibilities and caveats that govern data use.
Dame Fiona Caldicott, National Information Governance Board chair and one of the heroes of the emerging NHS information age, remarks that primary care trusts have been “very responsible” in their use of data. CCGs will have to follow suit – but the lack of resources they are likely to be able to commit to data management is a serious concern.
Dame Fiona is typically straightforward in setting out the challenges to effective and safe data use. The NIGB’s recommendations on how they should be met will be influential on practice and policy. Unfortunately the debate around data sharing is too often polarised, which is why the pragmatic and informed presence of HSJ readers at the NIGB’s June roadshows will benefit all.