Data sharing: connecting services and improving outcomes

16 August 2018

From multi-agency safeguarding hubs to integrated supported employment and mental health programmes, public service organisations can join up services around individual need, and improve outcomes by being smarter and safer about the way they process the personal data they collect.

It’s a message carried throughout Reform’s report, ‘Sharing the benefits: how to use data effectively in the public sector’, which is filled with stories that underline these benefits and the need to inspire the public’s trust and confidence in that flow of information. As our team was involved with one of the initiatives cited in the report, I’d like to share the story.

When councils and agencies became alarmed at the high costs and poor returns on healthcare provision across Dorset, their bosses started talking about the fragmented, inefficient system they ran.

That small conversation grew into a county-wide transformation programme, Dorset’s Information Sharing Charter (DISC). Over 60 healthcare agencies signed the DISC, committing to the timely, secure sharing of information to reduce costs and improve health and well-being.

The result was not just reduced duplication but importantly, it established a unified way of working to ensure compliance with data protection legislation. The approach paid dividends for patients too. Waiting times for specialist intervention were reduced whilst transfers of care into the community happened faster, as data flowed between services securely, and those who used them only needed to tell their story once.

Despite this and many other initiatives, two and half years on, the message of Reform’s report is stark: “the public sector has not yet managed to maximise these benefits”. It’s important to consider why this is.

There are genuine fears about how safe our personal data is when public services share information. As this report concludes, “security is critical to building trust in data sharing”, and a more mature conversation with the public is vital to address these fears.  The transparency requirements of new data protection laws will help with this.

As we can learn from the DISC, staff are more confident in sharing data appropriately when they have clearer guidance and training around their roles and responsibilities. This chimes with Reform’s comment on the complex nature of the legal landscape practitioners operate in. The laws making up the data protection framework do not operate in a bubble: they interact with a range of other statutory and common law duties.

With this in mind we are supportive of Reform’s recommendation to “partner with specialist organisations … who help demystify legislation, with resources and case studies specifically catered to public sector bodies.”

The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) is currently updating its Data Sharing Code of Practice, and is calling for views as the first stage of the consultation process. The code will also deal not just with legislative changes but with technical and other developments that have had an impact on data sharing since the publication of the last code in 2011. We will use the responses we receive to inform our revisions to the code. Anyone who would like to respond can do so via our website.

We believe the code, along with other guidance such as our Guide to the GDPR, will help organisations to inspire trust and confidence in their public services’ data sharing activities, enabling more stories like Dorset’s to be told.

Jovian Smalley, Group Manager – Engagement (Public Services), Information Commissioner’s Office

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