Making NHS data work for everyone (III): a mutually beneficial partnership

10 July 2018

Last month, Reform held a panel event on how to make NHS data work for everyone. The event explored: (i) the different ways of defining the value of NHS data and (ii) what constitutes a mutually beneficial public-private partnership between patients, the NHS and industry when there is access to data to create a product. To respect the Chatham House rule Reform has decided to produce as series of three blogs covering the main ideas raised during the event. The first and second blogs in the series are also available on Reform’s website.

Lord Mitchell and others have voiced their concerns about NHS data being accessed and used by the private sector in a way that is not most beneficial to patients and the NHS in the long-run. Partnerships with industry, such as Moorfields Eye Hospital and DeepMind or Drayson Health and Oxford University Hospitals, are necessary if patients and the healthcare system are to reap the benefits of tech innovations in healthcare. These can have a great positive impact on the life of patients and on the better running of the NHS. Nevertheless, it is important that the NHS maximises the value of its data as argued by the two previous blogs in this series. As highlighted during the event, when negotiating with the private sector it must not undervalue its assets: data and clinical expertise.

During the event, there was a sense of great opportunity for patients and the NHS to become active partners in public-private partnerships as data contributors. The conversation highlighted that there are multiple types of partnerships agreements that could be put in place such as:

  • A golden share in a company. This would be held by the Department of Health and Social Care or NHS England as suggested in the Life Sciences Industrial Strategy and it would give control of 51 per cent of the voting rights to the public sector.
  • Consortium agreements, such the creation of Limited Partnership (LP) or Limited Liability Partnerships (LLP), etc. This would mean the NHS organisation entering into a consortium agreement would jointly run a business with the private sector.
  • Data sharing agreements. These are the most common agreements currently in place, allowing private sector companies to access NHS data for a specific purpose and with patient-consent. Any profit generated from the use of that data, however, is retained by the private sector.
  • Equity shares in a product created using NHS data. The NHS organisation holding the share would have the right to receive a percentage of the profits derived from the sale of the product and to vote at shareholder meetings.
  • Intellectual property (IP) sharing agreements. This would mean that part of the IP of the product would be retained by the NHS organisation entering into this agreement and would be paid royalties by the private sector.
  • Profit-sharing/Revenue-sharing agreement. The NHS organisation entering into a profit-sharing/revenue-sharing agreement with the private sector would see a percentage of the profit/revenue generated from the sale of the product apportioned back to it.

Depending on the type of application, a specific type of partnership might be more suited. However, some might not achieve the same long-term value for the NHS such as the establishment of data sharing agreements. Although the technicalities of how partnerships are done might vary, a general framework of principles on how private sector companies operating in the data space should operate within the NHS is needed.

Many ideas emerged as to what could be done with the potential new revenue streams generated through these partnerships. Some argued that it might be used to fund the NHS. Others suggested that it should be invested in bettering the NHS’s data and digital infrastructure. Outside of the event other solutions have been proposed such as the creation of a sovereign wealth fund.

There is no single definition of the value of NHS data, however, one thing is certain and that is that NHS data has value. The healthcare system has a duty to maximise its benefits in the long-term. To do so it needs to have a clear understanding of what its value-proposition is when entering into a public-private partnership where there is transfer of data to create a product. This would allow the public sector to have an equal footing at the negotiation table and strike-up a partnership which delivers long-term value.

Eleonora Harwich, Director of Research and Head of Digital and Tech Innovation, Reform

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