New national resource for data-driven innovation

Matthew Gould

Good quality data is crucial to driving innovation in healthcare. It can unlock new technologies, power the development of AI, accelerate clinical trials and enable better interactions with patients.

The patient data held by the NHS holds enormous potential for the NHS to improve what it does, and for industry to develop new therapies and tools. To fulfil its promise we need both to uphold the sanctity of patient confidentiality, and to make best use of the data to improve health and care for all. 

This needs us to work closely with industry to accelerate progress – a partnership whose necessity became even clearer during the COVID-19 pandemic. But we need to do so on the basis of clear principles that give both the public and professions confidence in how the data is being used. We are accountable to the public and we must continue to earn their trust. So partnerships should always be constructed thoughtfully, and in line with the Department of Health and Social Care’s five guiding principles

This is easier said than done. It can be difficult to find the right industry partners to work with. Commercial negotiations can be complex. Regulatory processes for approval may be challenging. We cannot and should not expect every trust or NHS data asset owner to have the expertise in-house to do this. However, this has too often meant that the NHS fails to get the best value from its data, or has shied away from entering relationships that could be of benefit to our citizens and patients.

Centre for Improving Data Collaboration 

To help frontline NHS leaders navigate this, NHSX has established a new team: The Centre for Improving Data Collaboration. Created to build better data partnerships between the NHS and industry, the Centre will help you enter into fairer and more beneficial data partnerships with industry through hands-on support and advice.

Leading the team is Catherine Pollard. Catherine brings a mix of private sector and NHS experience, having worked at NHS Improvement as well as locally in the NHS in the London and East regions. I am delighted to have Catherine and her new team on board, and hope you will make use of their collective skills and experience.

The Centre offers tailored advice to help you navigate the rules and regulations, understand your options and enter into better data partnerships, through:

Practical tools for everyone

Simple, practical guidance to build better data partnerships, built upon a shared understanding of what is good value. We know many Trusts have already entered into productive data partnerships that have the potential to deliver significant value for patients and for the NHS. We would like to learn from you, so that we can share best practice and encourage peer-to-peer support.

Hands on support and resources where needed

While Boards are ultimately accountable for any partnership, the team can offer bespoke hands-on advice on commercial, legal and intellectual property issues, bringing in independent negotiators and lawyers as required.

Creating a more permissive environment with better patient and public dialogue

Many important rules and regulations govern data partnerships with industry, such as those around data protection, citizen engagement and creating subsidiaries. The team will help Boards navigate these. Where rules are outdated, the Centre will work with NHS regulatory bodies and central government to update them. And the team will be working with patient groups, charities and academia, to ensure their voice is heard as we shape policy and best practice.

Next steps

The team are also working with important national bodies such as NHS Digital, Genomics England, and the Health Data Research Hubs to help with their data partnerships.

The Centre is up and running, and the team is ready to help. As a first step, to promote and share best practice, the team is keen to learn from data partnerships already agreed, as well as those in development. So get in touch if you:

  • are currently considering entering a data partnership
  • have recently entered a data partnership 
  • have any views on the Centre’s work and priorities.