Digital and data and the NHS White Paper

In our series on the NHS White Paper, we have covered a number of the key legislative proposals for a Health and Care Bill outlined in the Department of Health and Social Care’s Integration and Innovation: working together to improve health and social care for all. In this latest post, we consider the proposals on digital and data.

So, what do the proposals say?

The plans embed lessons learned during the Covid-19 pandemic and include legislative changes to reduce bureaucracy and optimise data sharing. The White Paper acknowledges that our response to Covid-19 has demonstrated “…new ways to deliver care using innovative and creative solutions, exploiting digital and data”.

The proposals reflect commitments made in the Department’s Bureaucracy busting mission document published in November last year which aimed to improve the use and sharing of data and information within the NHS – and build on the ‘good practice’ from the response to Covid-19 by “building on the permissive approach” to data sharing, such as the use of Control of Patient Information Notices.

The White Paper highlights the forthcoming Data Strategy for Health and Social Care which aims to set out a range of proposals to address structural, cultural/behavioural and legislative barriers to data sharing and a more flexible legislative framework to improve data access and interoperability. This will cover the safe sharing of data and effective functioning of the wider health and care ecosystem.

Four key proposals are made

  • Require health and adult social care organisations to share anonymised information that they hold where such sharing would benefit the health and social care system.
  • Introduce powers to the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care to require data from all registered adult social care providers about all services they provide, whether funded by local authorities or privately funded individuals; and require data from private healthcare providers.
  • Make changes to NHS Digital’s legal framework to introduce a duty on NHS Digital to have regard to the benefit to the health and social care system of sharing data that it holds when exercising its functions; and clarify the purposes for which it can use data.
  • Introduce a power to the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care to mandate standards for how data is collected and stored, so that data flows through the system in a usable way, and that when it is accessed/provided (for whatever purpose), it is in a standard form, both readable by, and consistently meaningful to the user /recipient.


The central tenet of the White Paper proposals is to support the delivery of a more joined-up health and care system focused on integration and innovation. The proposals on data-sharing are very much welcomed as recent evaluation of integrated care schemes point to the complexity of bringing about integrated care and in particular, tackling issues such as, data sharing across services and organisations.

Interestingly a number of the proposals made in this new White Paper echo recommendations made by Public Policy Projects in their White Paper: Accelerating Digital Healthcare published in October 2020.

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