Ministers are set to order the health service to publicly release previously restricted clinical data sets as part of a renewed cross-government transparency push, HSJ has learned.

The Cabinet Office will write to all central government departments setting out an expectation that more data should be published revealing the performance and quality of public services.

The policy, which has strong backing from the prime minister, is a continuation of the move towards greater transparency that began last year with the requirement to publish all departmental spending over £25,000.

The new approach will be “less transactional and less bureaucratic” than last year’s requirement, according to one source close to the push.

Exactly what the NHS will be expected to publish has yet to be finalised, and the Cabinet Office will be inviting feedback on the plans. But some DH data sets are already considered priorities. These include:

  • intelligence gathered by cancer registries on prevalence, diagnosis, treatment and survival;
  • feedback from service users;
  • allowing patients full access to their own records;
  • community health data, possibly presented along the lines of the “crime maps” pioneered by the Home Office;
  • routine GP performance data, including prescribing.

Ministers will instruct departments to adopt the principle of publishing everything unless there is a good reason not to, and are likely to challenge the argument that data should not be published because of only marginal possibility of patients being identified.

The Cabinet Office is anxious to make information accessible to service users who lack specialist analytical skills.

There will also be an emphasis on releasing information that can be used by the private sector to develop tools or digital applications, which could help patients engage with services or treat their conditions.

However, the move could prove unpopular with clinicians. Clare Gerada, chair of the Royal College of GPs, warned against “washing dirty linen in public”.

She told HSJ: “What the government will end up with is the constant denigration of staff. This has to be information to which we have a right to reply, that we have some input into creating, and it has to be fair and valid. Information for information’s sake may not expose bad practice, and may cause people who are delivering good care to be demoralised.”

A British Medical Association spokeswoman said there was a danger of compromising patient confidentiality, and warned some of the data might be inaccurate or misleading.