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Following the publication of the important Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) data strategy – which encourages more integrated use of data, digitisation across the sector, and greater adoption of assistive technologies – health leaders from the Health Foundation and NHS Confederation have weighed in.

The strategy sets out ambitious plans for transforming the use of health and social care data in England. Its overall goal is to harness the data-driven power and innovation seen during the pandemic to drive transformation in health and care.

Crucially, the plan unveiled a £25 million fund that will be made available in 2022 to 2023 to scale up the investment and implementation of digital social care technology across England with integrated care systems (ICSs).

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Both Charles Tallack, Director of Data Analytics at the Health Foundation, and Matthew Taylor, Chief Executive of the NHS Confederation, agree that improving data use and access across the health and social care in England is pivotal.

Among some of the benefits of encouraging better use of data and technology they highlighted are greater efficiency, clearing backlogs, preventing ill-health, and giving patients more control over their data.

Responding to the publication of the UK Government’s data strategy for health and social care, Charles said: “Today’s strategy is an important milestone in the government’s efforts to make better use of data to improve health and social care in England. The improvements made to last year’s draft strategy are welcome.

“Making better use of data is essential to helping streamline care and improving experiences and outcomes for those using health and care services. It will also be crucial to the health and social care system’s ability to recover from the coronavirus pandemic and address the significant challenges ahead. These include improving targeting of services and interventions to prevent ill-health and reduce inequalities, enabling faster and better testing of treatments and innovations at scale and supporting the workforce.

“While the strategy represents an important step in the right direction, its impact will depend on whether and how the commitments are implemented in the coming years.

“It will also be important for the public, patients, service users, and staff across the system to be engaged in implementation – to build and maintain confidence in the use of data. And the strategy must be properly resourced, to ensure its ambition can be realised.”

Matthew also welcomed the introduction of the health and social care data strategy, saying it is an important step for more effective use of data to improve patient care and be more efficient.

“NHS staff often have to deal with clunky IT systems that can hinder their productivity and make their jobs harder than they need to be,” he continued. “These steps announced today will remove some of the barriers they face and will help to arm health and social care professionals with the information they need.

“We welcome the ambition in this strategy for more adults to use the NHS App – this will help free up staff time and put more patients in control of their healthcare. However, with more than 1 in 10 adults in the UK not owning a smartphone, we need to be mindful about the risk of widening health inequalities.

“The measures in the strategy will also strengthen public trust by further protecting patients’ privacy. We will never be able to fully achieve our digital ambitions in the NHS until we have much greater trust from the public in terms of how their data is being used.

“As the NHS has already demonstrated with the rise in both virtual GP and outpatient appointments and the roll-out of virtual wards, there is significant enthusiasm across the NHS for digital transformation. This step change in digital transformation is vast and will take time.”

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