Can metadata help the NHS understand how data is used, drive data-driven innovation and improve public confidence?

by Adam Milward , June 25th, 2021


The NHS has recently published their Data Policy Paper Draft and we’re delighted to see that their metadata driven Data Strategy recognises Data Discovery, Data Understanding and Data Access (read metadata management) as key drivers that will transform the way the NHS utilises data for public benefit.

Although the word “metadata” is only mentioned once, 3 out of 3 of the priorities and 44 of the ~97 (depending on how you interpret each) commitments cannot be achieved without effective metadata solutions.

This is the first in a series of articles about how metadata can drive a transparency revolution across the NHS that allows them to meet their commitments and priorities.

NHS Data Priority 1: “build understanding on how data is used and the potential for data-driven innovation, improving transparency so the public has control over how we are using their data”

So let’s break this down:

  1. How do we “understanding how data is used”?  We collect Metadata that describes what data exists across the system and use it to report on how it is used
  2. How do we “understanding the potential for data driven innovation”? We make innovators aware of what data is available and provide transparent mechanisms for them request access to data and the demonstrate the benefits of their innovations to the public
  3. How do we “improve transparency so the public has control over how we use their data”? This starts with being more transparent about what data is collected. Simply publishing a high level list of the data collected and how it is used would be a very good start.

Can metadata help the NHS achieve Priority Number 1? Short answer, yes, but it’s probably easier to tell a story……..

Once upon a time there was a data crisis in the NHS where staff struggled get the information they needed and the public didn’t feel like they had any control of how their data was used. Every day data engineers worked tirelessly to try and get data to the right place at the right time, but time and time again, they couldn’t find, understand or access the data. One day someone developed a catalogue that listed all the data in each NHS organisation that could be searched and shared in a safe and secure way. Because of that data engineers could find and understand data so they could get the right data to the right place at the right time. And the public had greater transparency about what data was collected and how it was being used. Until Finally the NHS had data that helped the whole health and care system to deliver the best care to the citizens they serve

This may be an oversimplification but ultimately you cannot improve the way data is used or inspire confidence in the public, until you answer some basic questions about your data like, what data do we have? how is it used? And present this back to the public in a safe, secure and transparent way.







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