• Chair of Matt Hancock’s healthtech board criticises secrecy and outsourcing of NHS data management
  • Singles out Getting it Right First Time and model hospital programmes
  • Says outsourcing analytics of NHS data is “insane”

One of the health secretary’s main technology advisers has called the secrecy and outsourcing of hospital performance data “insane”.

Oxford University clinical researcher Ben Goldacre told an audience at the Digitalhealth Rewired event in London on Tuesday that the culture of secrecy surrounding the Getting it Right First Time and Carter Model Hospital programmes “was broken”.

Matt Hancock appointed Dr Goldacre to chair his new healthtech advisory board in October, which is charged with supporting the health and social care secretary’s “tech vision”. Dr Goldacre also runs the popular Open Prescribing website, which analyses publicly available data to identify best practice and outliers at a GP practice level.

He said, in addition to this secrecy, the analysis of some hospital data was being outsourced to the private sector. Even when the data was handled within the NHS, such as the model hospital programme, the methods of analysis and full results were often kept secret, he said.

Dr Goldacre said this made it difficult for the system to independently appraise the data validity and to use it for other beneficial purposes, adding: “Outsourcing analytics is like outsourcing your central nervous system… It is an insane thing to do yet it has become the norm.”

He said many hospital trusts found model hospital metrics confusing, as it often contradicted their own figures. However, they had no way to compare themselves to their peers or even examine how conclusions about their performance were reached, he said.

He added: “Model hospitals is the flagship variation in care tool… but I’m not allowed to see it because it’s done entirely behind closed doors.”

Parts of running analysis of GIRFT data is contracted to private companies, including to Dr Foster and Method Analytics. NHS Improvement runs the model hospital data programme in-house, but both the overall data set and methodologies are not made public.

In addition, Dr Goldacre said information about the use of medicines in hospitals was also kept secret, despite growing costs and variation in practice.

He said: “The drug company is allowed to know what doctor is prescribing but I’m not allowed to build open tools to help people understand variation in care.”

Responding to the story, a GIRFT spokesman said: “Our data analysis has always been led by our in-house team and clinical leads. We have sometimes been required to use external companies to support our team so we can analyse data more quickly.

“In certain areas, we do not own the data and are therefore constrained by data sharing agreements. However, we are able to share such data with other NHS organisations that share the same purpose of GIRFT – to illustrate variance to encourage service change.”