Letter: Health statistics will save lives through better informed care

Camilla Cavendish rightly highlights the pressing need for safe and effective use of health data (Opinion, FT Weekend, May 21).

At the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, the Department of Health and Social Care urgently required the ability to track data on the population to identify who had disease, how severe was it, who was at risk, who had been vaccinated with which vaccine, who had tested positive and how best, as a system, to manage the emerging pandemic. By issuing a Control of Patient Information notice, the department created one of the most important and effective shared data sets available globally. All other countries envied the quality and breadth of the UK data.

Furthermore, for those who predicted disaster from health data sharing, the sky did not fall. Many lives have been saved and there were no egregious examples of inappropriate use of data.

We are now facing a different health challenge, but one no less deadly than the pandemic. The ageing of the population is driving an unsustainable increase in a wide range of common chronic conditions such as heart and lung disease, diabetes, obesity, cancer, mental health disorders and dementia.

Many people are suffering from more than one condition, and care is often shared between community services, primary care and the hospital system.

In these circumstances, it is vital that information from all care providers is digitally connected and shared across the NHS and care system, managed with tight data governance and security.

This will save lives with better and more informed care and make the health system sustainable by making it more efficient in everything it does. Shared and integrated data is essential to the NHS’s future and to delivering patient care at all levels.

John Bell
Regius Professor of Medicine
University of Oxford

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