Greater access to data will improve health outcomes, says MP

4 November 2016

Wider use of patient data will lead to better health outcomes, Jo Churchill, MP for Bury St Edmonds and chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Personalised Medicine, said Wednesday at a roundtable discussion sponsored by the Campaign for Social Science.

Held at Portcullis House, the discussion looked at the role of data in improving health and health service delivery, one issue examined in the Campaign’s upcoming The Health of People report. The report outlines the vital role of the social and behavioural sciences in contributing to and improving population health and health services.

Mrs Churchill said that leadership was needed on the part of government to build trust among the public that their data would not be misused and, with appropriate safeguards, would enhance health service delivery.

“A programme of governance and trust is just the first step in assuring people that everyone is working to the same code of practice,” she said. This is instrumental in increasing public understanding of the personal and societal benefits that data use in health research delivers to healthcare. “We need to bring people together – patients, clinicians, researchers and the charity sector – in demanding that the government step up and deliver.”

“This is about patient outcomes, driving benefit, and driving the economy,” she added.

Mrs Churchill’s comments come as various data measures are currently being considered in Parliament. The Digital Economy Bill, designed to improve access to data – but which explicitly excludes health data – is still being debated. Mrs Churchill on Tuesday introduced a bill to establish, and make provision about, the National Data Guardian for Health and Social Care.

Wednesday’s roundtable was the last of three that brought together prominent social and behavioural scientists, practitioners, clinicians and policy makers to discuss issues highlighted in the report.

Sir Malcom Grant, Chair of NHS England, chaired the first roundtable which considered ways in which the social and behavioural sciences could improve health service delivery by helping the public and healthcare practitioners make better decisions and adopt better practices.

The roundtable focused on how researchers and clinicians could use the social sciences to better understand how to change factors influencing health including social norms, behaviours, incentives and the environment. Given the siloed structure of healthcare systems, and the healthcare sector from other relevant sectors, greater partnerships between academics, policymakers and practitioners across disciplines and sectors are needed.

With their focus on evidenced-based research, the social sciences have the tools to analyse and translate patient needs, health-related data, and processes of change and implementation. This means that they can successfully drive behaviour change strategies both among the general public and in clinical practice, the roundtable said.

Kevin Fenton, Director of Health and Wellbeing at Public Health England, chaired the second discussion. The roundtable looked at how to create more effective and efficient programmes to promote health and well-being and prevent ill-health.

Often, strategies are proposed as common sense, but specific behaviour change techniques, applied appropriately, are required. It is here that the social and behavioural sciences help in understanding and framing health problems. They offer a deeper insight into why people behave as they do, leading to strategies to change behaviour of a wide range of key people, networks and organisations at both local and national levels, from health commissioners to town planners to healthcare professionals .

Susan Michie, Professor of Health Psychology at University College London and chair of the expert working group developing the report, said:

“It is vital to build social science into our health infrastructure, in the broadest sense, from the outset. It provides both immediate and long term solutions to improve service delivery, change behaviours that lead to healthier and happier lives and better patient experiences, and implement more effective prevention programmes.”

The Health of People will be launched in early 2017.