Will COVID-19 join up health and social care for good?

New perspective on information governance in a post-pandemic era: will COVID-19 remove the barriers to join up health and care services for patients for good?

While there has long been debate about information governance in a health and care context, the COVID-19 pandemic has cast the topic in a completely new light. National Data Guardian Dame Fiona Caldicott recently talked about the need for information to be shared more quickly and wisely in the midst of the pandemic, and it has just been announced that there will be a government-funded study of how people’s attitudes have changed as a result of this crisis.

Propelled by this shift in sentiment, the digital transformation of the health and social care sectors has been catapulted forward, with a decade of progress happening in a matter of weeks. Instead of being led by the complexities and challenges which might seem overwhelming, organisations are looking squarely at how to achieve the best possible outcomes. But when rapid change is prompted by an unprecedented event like this, will it stand the test of time? Is there a positive legacy to be left by this awful disease if we see the information governance barriers to joining up health and care services for patients lift for good in a post-pandemic world?

The information governance conundrum

One might ask: what has held us back when, on the surface, joining up health and care services makes so much sense? Our work on the Kent and Medway Care Record (KMCR) started pre-pandemic and has given us significant insight; it is one of the biggest and most complex projects of its kind in England, as we work to unite health and social care across the entire Kent region.

We are now two years into driving forward the KMCR programme with decisions linked to the needs of the clinical professionals and based on latest technologies. The mobilisation planning and how best to roll out a single care record are well advanced, and over the next six months we will see organisations across Kent and Medway being able to access key, lifesaving data for patients across the region.

NHSX CEO Matt Gould has said shared care records need to become the new standard and there are targets in place for them to be rolled out countrywide by 2023. However, driving the KMCR forward hasn’t been without challenges – information governance being a big one in the context of today’s data and privacy concerns.

The public’s attention has been drawn time and again to the pitfalls around data sharing and privacy in recent times. It is rare to read a good news story in this respect, and with talk of GDPR and the Cambridge Analytica scandal eating up column inches, a good degree of fear has been embedded inside the narrative on this issue. Of course, this is not to say that it is wrong to question or express concern – but what if the fear takes over and clouds our common sense?

When common sense prevails

We must continue to be mindful of how people’s data is used – especially when as sensitive as health and care data is – but the benefits to be derived from allowing it to flow more freely should surely prevail. The COVID-19 pandemic has really shone a light on where joining up health and care makes complete sense. In places where systems are able to interoperate to make seamless data sharing a reality, people will receive more appropriate and faster treatment or interventions as a result.

So, what’s really changed? Well, everything. Never has the phrase ‘time is of the essence’ been more true. There is nothing like a pandemic to sharpen focus, it seems, as we see NHS trusts and local authorities acting with not only speed, but also with the new found confidence necessary to make big decisions with a trail of red tape left in their wake. Really, it should always have been the case, but by putting the needs of the people at the centre of the delivery of health and care, the outcomes are better all round.

Making joined up care a must-have

It is already hard to remember a life before COVID-19. Things have moved so far along in such a short space of time. With that, it is inconceivable that we will go back to life as it was. Data and privacy concerns will always exist, but the perspective will undoubtedly be different on the other side of a global pandemic. People want organisations delivering health and social care to act as one, and see the bigger picture when it comes to how data sharing enables that to happen. I for one am convinced that the great strides that have been made towards making joined up health and care a reality through initiatives like the shared care record are here to stay.

Steve Whiting is the lead on health sector initiatives for Cantium, a provider of bespoke business solutions which is driving implementation of the Kent and Medway Care Record.


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