From A to B on using medical records to help people get better

If the day has a ‘y’ in it then I guarantee that policy-makers and experts somewhere across Whitehall and Westminster are meeting to plot a way through the stalemate otherwise known as the ‘use of health data.’  That is: how we are going to use my and everyone else’s medical records to make people better now and in the future?

This afternoon, sitting in my third meeting on the subject in as many days (yes, I know, I lead an exciting life don’t I?), I did wonder – and not for the first time – if I was about to disappear down a very deep hole; there are so many organisations, working groups, initiatives, Boards, committees, panels, all working on the issue. I might just make one up for the hell of it.

Talking of which, if we had placed moles at High Barnet, Morden, Lewisham and Upminster and asked them to create the London tube, the resulting mess wouldn’t be far off where we are now.  A maze of tunnels that mean something to the owner but no one else.  A complex system that you would only know was there because of the small mounds of earth on otherwise pristine lawns.  Everyone is trying to do something and with the best of intentions.  But the overall purpose of this activity remains frustratingly nebulous.  We can’t even agree how to express why we want to do it.

Maybe the task ahead on data is essentially an engineering feat akin to Crossrail.  We need to know the starting point, the end point and then have a bloody large tunnelling machine to hand.  We might cause a few edifices to lean.  Some egos might vanish down the odd sink hole or two.  A few people will miss out completely on a connection to the finished product.  But if we want to get from A to B, that’s the price we will have to pay.  Some will no doubt say that the National Information Board meeting last week is the start of this.  I hope so.

There are rumours Government is ruminating on a new health challenge for its next five years in office.  Like dementia in the last parliament.  I’ve heard obesity, diabetes and mental health all being mentioned as possibilities.  Which probably means it’s all just a pointless rumour.  But, if not……I hope that the Prime Minister picks none of these.  I’d rather he went for something like ‘health data’ which would benefit all of us.  It probably needs that sort of ‘oomph’ and clarity of purpose.  Critically, it probably needs this sort of leadership to help us get to the other side.

And what of the public?  Well, you’ll note they are conspicuously absent from my opening line.  Need I say more. In the meantime we have all become amateur experts on the subject of public confidence and trust.

It might be heresy to say it but I suspect we know as much as we need to about public attitudes.  We certainly don’t need any more surveys or polls or focus groups.  We also knows what works in public engagement.  Not just in general but on the specific issue of data use as well.  We just need to get out there and talk it through with people in terms they can connect with.  The same with our GPs and other health professionals. Because it will take time to build a compact on this issue.  And it will be too late if we don’t start soon.

So, there you go, a blog with no real ‘A’ nor ‘B’.  But this is just a blog.  Not about helping people to get better.

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