Feature Outcomes Data

Show us the data: why clinical outcomes matter

BMJ 2012; 344 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.e66 (Published 10 January 2012) Cite this as: BMJ 2012;344:e66
  1. Michael Cross, freelance journalist
  1. michaelcross{at}fastmail.fm

The NHS’s use of clinical outcomes data is in its infancy, but accurate and usable measures are crucial to the success of new commissioning groups. Michael Cross maps out the road ahead

Data from the NHS will have a key role in the British government’s plan for national economic recovery. In a well trailed speech last month, Prime Minister David Cameron announced a plan to amend the NHS constitution to make data extracted from health records available for research unless patients actively opt out. Acknowledging “a little bit of controversy” over the issue of confidentiality, he said, “it doesn’t mean anyone can look at your health records, but it does mean using anonymous data to make new medical breakthroughs . . . it is simply a waste to have a health system like the NHS and not to do this kind of thing.”

Mr Cameron’s speech came hard on the heels of a series of announcements by Chancellor George Osborne about the opening up of NHS data for re-use by business. In his autumn statement on the economy, the chancellor set a timetable for publishing several new sets of data, including prescribing data at general practice level, under the government’s “open data” programme. The idea is to nurture a market in websites and online services that make use of “public sector information” ranging from geographical and meteorological information to anonymised data drawn from health and social care records.

The chancellor’s statement set out a new role for the NHS Health and Social Care Information Centre (set up by the last government to split the management of NHS information from the management of NHS information technology) as a hub for publicly available data. All its data sets would be available free under an “open government licence” apart from some prescribing data, …

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