Letter: Health statistics will save lives through better informed care

Camilla Cavendish rightly points to the pressing need for safe and effective use of health data (Opinion, FT Weekend, May 21).

At the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, the Department of Health and Social Care urgently needed to be able to track population data to identify who had the disease, how severe it was, who was at risk, who had been vaccinated with which vaccine, who had tested positive, and how, as a system, best manage the emerging pandemic. By issuing a Patient Information Control Notice, the department has created one of the largest and most effective shared datasets available in the world. All other countries envied the quality and extent of UK data.

Moreover, for those who predicted the catastrophe of the sharing of health data, the sky did not fall on us. Many lives have been saved and there have been no egregious examples of inappropriate use of data.

Today we face a different health challenge, but no less deadly than the pandemic. Population aging is leading to an unsustainable increase in a wide range of common chronic diseases such as heart and lung disease, diabetes, obesity, cancer, mental health disorders and dementia.

Many people have more than one condition, and care is often shared between community services, primary care and the hospital system.

In these circumstances, it is vital that information from all healthcare providers is digitally connected and shared across the NHS and the healthcare system, managed with strict data governance and security.

It will save lives through better, more informed care and make the health system sustainable by making it more efficient in everything it does. Shared and integrated data is essential to the future of the NHS and to the delivery of patient care at all levels.

John Bell
Regius Professor of Medicine
Oxford University