What’s happening to make big data use a reality in health and social care?

data-stream-shutterstock_croppedBy Steven McGinty

At the beginning of the year, NHS Director Tim Kelsey described the adoption of new technologies in the NHS as a ‘moral obligation’. He argued that the gaps in knowledge are so wide and so dangerous that they were putting lives at stake.  It’s therefore no surprise that the UK Government, the NHS, and local governments have all been looking at ways to better understand the health and social care environment.

The effective use of ‘big data’ techniques is said to be key to this understanding. Big data has many definitions but industry analysts Gartner define it as:

“high-volume, high-velocity and high-variety information assets that demand cost-effective, innovative forms of information processing for enhanced insight and decision making”

However, if health and social care is to make better use of its data, it’s important that an effective infrastructure is in place. As a result, changes have been made to legislation and a number of initiatives introduced.

Why is it important to know about big data in health and social care?

The effective use of data in health and social care is a key policy aim of the current government (and will most likely continue under future governments).  The changes that have been made so far have had a significant impact on the policies and practices of health and social care organisations. The vast majority focus on information sharing, in particular how organisations share data and who they share data with.

What changes have been made to support big data?


This was the most ambitious programme introduced by NHS England. It was developed by the Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC) and set out to link the medical records of GP practices with hospitals at a national level. It was expected that datasets from GPs’ records and hospital records would be linked using an identifier such as an NHS number or a person’s date of birth. However, due to concerns raised by the public, particularly in regards to privacy, the programme was delayed. The programme has now resumed but new safeguards have been introduced, such as the commissioning of an advisory board and the ‘opt out’ provision, where patients can opt out from having their data used for anything other than their direct care.

The Health and Social Care Act 2012 and the Care Act 2014

The Acts have both introduced provisions that impact on data. For instance, the Health and Social Care Act enshrines in law the ability of the Health and Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC) to collect and process confidential personal data. In addition, the Care Act clarifies the position of the Health and Social Care Act by ensuring that the HSCIC doesn’t distribute data unless it’s part of the provision of health and social care or the promotion of health.

Centre of Excellence for Information Sharing

This initiative came from the ‘Improving Information Sharing and Management (IISaM) project’, a joint initiative between Bradford Metropolitan District Council, Leicestershire County Council and the 10 local authorities in Greater Manchester. The centre has been set up to help understand the barriers to information sharing and influence national policy. They hope to achieve these goals through the use of case studies, blogs, the development of toolkits, and any other forms of shared learning. The centre has already published some interesting case studies including the Hampshire Health Record (HHR) and Leicestershire County Council’s Children and Young People’s Service (CYPS) approach to communicating how they deal with data.

These are just some of the steps that have been taken to make sure 2015 is the year of big data. However, if real progress is to be made it’s going to require more than top down leadership and headline grabbing statements. It’s going to require all health and social care organisations to take responsibility and work through their barriers to information sharing.

Further reading

Read our other recent blogs on health and social care:

Become a member of the Idox Information Service now, to access a wealth of further information on health and social care including best practice and commentary. Contact us for more details.

How is health and social care integration being achieved in England?

By Steven McGinty

Since coming to power in 2010, the coalition government has introduced a series of major reforms to health and social care. They argue that these reforms are necessary for meeting the future needs of patients, as well as providing a more efficient public health service.  Central to these changes is the idea of integration, where services are delivered in a way that limits duplication, delivers more preventative care and targets resources more effectively. However, what has the government done to facilitate integration between health and social care?

In 2012, the Health and Social Care Bill was given royal assent and became an Act. The Act introduced a number of key changes to the way that healthcare is delivered, including:

  • the merging of a numbers of quangos, such as the Health Protection Agency and the National Treatment Agency for Substance Misuse, into one national body, Public Health England (PHE);
  • the abolition of Primary Care Trusts (PCTs), and the introduction of Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs), which are GP led bodies responsible for the commissioning of local health services, as well as a greater responsibility for local authorities;
  • the extension of the remit of bodies, such as Health and Wellbeing Boards, giving them extra responsibilities, including the development of strategies across health and social care to meet local public health issues;
  • the introduction of a new organisation, Healthwatch England, an independent body set up to promote the interests of patients in health and social care services.

In 2013, the government introduced a new funding mechanism known as the ‘Better Care Fund (BCF)’. This was a £3.8 billion pool of money to support health and social care bodies through the process of integration. Health and Wellbeing Boards (HWBs) are expected to provide plans to access the funding. These plans are assessed using criteria that includes:

  • how well data is shared between health and social care bodies;
  • how well plans protects social care services;
  • how it protects seven day a week services;
  • how well it reduces admissions to hospitals at weekends.

According to the County Councils Network, plans will have to show how services will be delivered in an innovative way that meets the local needs of people over the long term, in order to ensure funding.

In 2014, the government introduced the Care Act, a piece of legislation based on the 2011 Dilnot report into the funding of adult social care. The Act has been described as the biggest transformation in the care system since 1948, and introduces a number of significant changes, including:

  • that those who receive care from a regulated care provider or local council will be covered by the Human Rights Act, although those paying for care are not covered;
  • introducing a new cap of £72,000 on the cost of care for those eligible under the Act;
  • introducing duties for local authorities to offer prevention services, including the right to receive accessible information and advice, to try and reduce the numbers of people needing to go into hospitals.

The current Minister of State for Care and Support, Norman Lamb MP, has stated that the government is committed to integrating health and social care by 2018. However, it will be very interesting to see if the health care system can be fully integrated by that deadline and whether it can deliver the sort of outcomes expected.

Idox are involved in an innovative partnership with Calderdale Council. The council has developed an innovative case management tool to support their day-to-day work, in areas such as child protection, looked after children, and fostering and adopting.

Calderdale have teamed up with Idox, a specialist in providing technology, content and funding solutions to government, and are now offering their system to other local authorities. The partnership has already proven to be successful, with Calderdale and Idox providing their solution to councils in the Isles of Scilly and Leeds.

We blogged recently about the benefits of the system for integrated working. We have also looked at the barriers to the uptake of digital technologies in health and social care.

Further reading:

Healthy places, healthy people?

senior couple running

by Lesley de Blieck

“If 75 % of people failing to exercise enough across the country did meet recommended levels of walking, £675 million could be saved each year”. RIBA

Section 12 of the Health and Social Care Act 2012 has given local authorities in England responsibility to improve the health and wellbeing of local people. Continue reading