The NHS has relaunched the postponed Care.data initiative as part of a commitment to using big data to improve the delivery of public sector healthcare.
Tim Kelsey, national director for patients and information at NHS England, confirmed that the project was back as part of an effort to drive new big data initiatives in the NHS.
"Care.data is starting again now. There are some Pathfinder localities which are going to begin to work with local communities on extracting data, linking GP data with hospital data, and building new ways in which we can analyse the pathway of care that patients travel down," he said at the WANDisco Big Data breakfast event, attended by V3.
Kelsey said the Care.data initiative is being relaunched with legal safeguards to protect patient privacy in an effort to reassure the public the system is safe.
"Care.data seemed like it was failure last year when we had to bring it to a halt because of the media campaign and legitimate public concerns [over privacy]," he acknowledged.
Kelsey is also spearheading initiatives that will focus on the transparency of data, and participation between patients and healthcare services in the use of medical records.
"In relation to transparency, 2015 is going to be the biggest year the NHS has ever had. And we are very serious about making the NHS a global leader in data-driven public service," he explained.
Kelsey said that data transparency ensures that the proper patient care is being delivered by the healthcare service.
He cited an example in which his mother, a GP, needed to become a whistleblower to highlight an incident when a negligent radiologist failed to provide care for his cancer patents.
He explained that the transparent use of existing data to monitor doctor visits to patients could have avoided such a situation.
"I just couldn't believe the NHS was flying blind like this. In healthcare, data transparency is of critical importance; much more important in fact than many people realise," he said.
"We know that nowhere does a regulated public service deliver value without a very positive degree of accountability and public transparency."
Kelsey wants to encourage the NHS and its patients to get involved in the use of medical data.
"A big priority for me is to give people access to their own medical records, and that starts digitally from this March," he said.
"So 2015 will be the first year that citizens in this country, or any country in the world, will have comprehensive access to their GP records.
"It's an opportunity for big data analytics, but much more fundamentally for people to get to grips with their own health and care."
He added that the NHS is committed to collaboration and interoperability across the healthcare service to enable frontline emergency services to have "big data at the bedside".
Kelsey explained that big data initiatives will help fill gaps in the NHS, such as an inability to track how many people receive chemotherapy and whether it is successful.
"There are gaps so big, so dangerous, that they have to be filled from a moral as well as political perspective," he said.
Kelsey has been a keen advocate of the wider use of big data in healthcare, having recently suggested that the NHS needs to use digital patient data if it is to survive.
This is likely to be achieved, in part, by an NHS commitment to provide online access to patient records within four years.
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