The response to the coronavirus pandemic brought data to the heart of government decision making like never before – but what lessons does government need to learn about data sharing from the experience?
This paper summarises a roundtable discussion bringing together public servants and others involved in the NHS Covid-19 Data Store and NHS National Data Platform, which NHS England launched towards the beginning of the Covid pandemic to provide national organisations responsible for co-ordinating the response with secure, reliable and timely data. It found that:
- The clear purpose and urgency that the pandemic brought helped teams to deliver, but the urgency also brought downsides, including staff stress. Routines are now moving towards business as usual and new ways of working (distributed leadership, remote working and collaboration) are being embedded.
- High-level support – from figures including the chief scientific adviser and national statistician, as well as senior figures within the health system – helped empower the team, although business as usual will have to contend with these figures stepping back.
- This support also helped galvanise leadership across different organisations in the health system – but there were challenges in co-ordinating different organisations, duplication of work and overcoming entrenched cultural reluctance to share data between different bodies (legal barriers were much less significant in sharing data).
- Data was brought to the centre of decision making like never before, and its operational use helped to break down silos between data and analysis, and the rest of the system. There was a shift in leaders recognising the need to be data literate (although there is still some work to do). It was also vital that domain knowledge of the NHS supplemented this data knowledge.
- The creation of the Covid-19 Data Store and Data Platform highlighted the importance of preparation: developing an ontology for thinking about the constituent parts of the health system and the data within it early on helped greatly, while a lack of existing guidance and processes for data sharing caused some delays.
- The Data Store team tried to engage the public throughout (including through citizens’ juries), although communications could sometimes be challenging given the velocity and veracity of stories about the scheme. Government in general needs to do more to engage the public in the use of their data, as a loss of trust – through instances of data sharing the public would not support – would set back progress. NHS England is planning to do more public engagement in future.
This is the last of six papers in the series, each based on a roundtable discussion around a particular case study or theme. A short report drawing together key themes and lessons will follow in February 2023.
We would like to thank Scott Logic for supporting this project. Read more from Scott Logic about the Data Sharing in Government research project on their website.