NHS Digital supercedes the Health and Social Care Information Centre. It describes itself as at the forefront of the drive to transform the NHS and social care using digital technology.
Their current programme includes:
- providing a single secure identity for each member of the public across all health and care services;
- creating a single point of public access to on-line information and service interactions;
- recommending digital apps to allow people to ‘manage their health’ and allow clinicians to remotely monitor patients’ health;
- developing technology to support digital and on-line clinical interactions;
- providing hard-to-reach groups with skills to help them access digital services;
- providing accessible IT systems etc for use by clinicians and patients, free at the point of use;
- reducing pressure on A & E departments by using algorithms to direct patients to the most appropriate place or form of treatment;
- enabling patients to interact with their GPs on-line
NHS Digital’s data collections come from many aspects of health and social care, such as NHS Trusts, local authorities and independent organisations. Their national data sets collect information from care records (currently not GP summary care records) and organisations involved in a range of areas of health and care, in order to inform policy, plan services, and monitor and improve care.
NHS Digital and the Five Year Forward View
NHS Digital plays a central role in NHS England’s five year plant (the Five Year Forward View), of which a core aim is to make patients responsible for managing their own healthcare and use of health services. This approach depends in part on the introduction of new technologies and new types of services such as websites giving advice on how to deal medicines appropriately, manage self-treatable conditions, and when to seek appropriate clinical help.
NHS Digital is also developing an NHS Apps Library, providing information about accredited phone apps. (A previous Health Apps Library was closed down after concerns were raised about some the software used and ‘data leakage’.
(see also our page on Digital GP services).
NHS Digital and the sharing of patients’ details for immigration enforcement
A Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between NHS Digital, the Home Office and the Department of Health came into force in 2017 that allows NHS Digital to hand over non-clinical information to the Home Office.
Since then, the House of Commons Health Select Committee has published a report voicing “serious concerns” about NHS Digital’s leadership, claiming that its executives have paid “little regard” to the ethics of sharing patient details for the purposes of immigration enforcement, and are too close to government. At the same time, the Report berated the government for taking a position on health data confidentiality that’s at odds with the NHS’s own code. Committee members fear that, as a result of the MoU,
- people will be deterred from seeking health care;
- there will be more strain on A&E departments (where people don’t have to say who they are);
- the public’s perception that their NHS records are confidential will be seriously undermined; and
- this type of data sharing will become the norm.
The British Medical Association are among organisations that have supported the views of the Committee and its request the immediate withdrawal of the MoU.