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Invest in health & social care data to recover from COVID-19, says new report

Industry think tank calls for data investment to save lives, create jobs and protect future of NHS and social care

The Scottish Council for Development and Industry (SCDI) has today (Wednesday 27 January) published a new report in partnership with industry – Mind the Gap – which calls on the Scottish Government to learn the lessons of the pandemic and invest now in data, digital and technology to help Scotland recover from COVID-19, transform health & social care and boost the economy.

The crisis has demonstrated that a healthy society is essential for a healthy economy, the report argues, and that we must invest now to prepare and build resilience for the public health challenges of the future.

The report shows how the collection, analysis and sharing of data about the virus has proven essential in helping policymakers, researchers and health & social care professionals to save lives and livelihoods during the pandemic. Health & social care data has been shared around the world and across health and social care in Scotland to identify and control outbreaks, shape public health restrictions, design business support, develop more effective treatments and accelerate the vaccine rollout.

Mind the Gap suggests that to build resilience into our health and social care systems for the future we need to investment now in new and emerging technologies like AI and automation, underpinned by ethical, robust and secure data. This investment could revolutionise health & social care in Scotland.

Using research by Dell and EY, the report estimates that Scotland’s health & social care data could be worth £800 million every year and could be harnessed to deliver £5.4 billion in savings for NHS Scotland alone – a massive 38% of its current budget – to reinvest. Investment now could help improve working environments, increase productivity and reduce demand pressures across the sector, which have only intensified due to COVID-19.

The report identifies what it calls ‘Scotland’s Data Gap’ – the gap between ‘the health & social care data we collect, utilise or share today and the health & social care data we need and could collect, utilise or share in the future’ to better design and deliver care and services. It says that trust and transparency is key. Health & social care data needs to be ethical, secure and anonymised as far as possible with robust governance arrangements for use and sharing.

The report welcomes the Scottish Government’s commitment – announced in its Programme for Government last September – to create a dedicated data strategy for health & social care, which is due to be published later in 2021. However, it says that the delivery of the strategy needs to be backed by a Health & Social Care Transformation Fund to invest in closing Scotland’s Data Gap.

The report – which is the result of engagement with experts, stakeholders, businesses and workers across the Scottish economy – identifies four key priorities for long-term, strategic investment:

  • Strategy: Developing an ambitious, collaborative and innovative national approach to harnessing data to transform health & social care which maximises social and economic gains
  • Culture & Leadership: Empowering leaders to drive change by building an ambitious and collaborative national culture of innovation in data, digital and technology
  • Skills: Investing in reskilling, upskilling and lifelong learning to develop a health & social care workforce better equipped to harness data, digital and technology
  • Infrastructure: Modernising and upgrading health & social care infrastructure to build a single national data architecture which integrates systems, enables ethical data sharing and creates secure digital health records

Sara Thiam, SCDI’s Chief Executive, said:

“As we look to recover and build resilience from COVID-19, this report could not be more timely or more important.

“Our doctors, nurses, pharmacists and social care professionals working in our hospitals, our care homes and our communities have been heroic throughout the pandemic. They deserve our support to harness data, digital and technology to transform health & social care for the future.

“Scotland has a narrow window of opportunity to establish itself as a leader in data and innovation in health & social care. There are big social and economic gains for all of us if we can work together to close Scotland’s data gap.”

Alison Culpan, Director of the Association of British Pharmaceutical Industry in Scotland, said:

“Now more than ever we need to close the data gap and re-establish Scotland as a country at the forefront of digital innovation.  

“This report clearly outlines the steps required to realise the data vision and ensure healthcare data can not only improve patient lives but stimulate economic growth in a post-COVID world.

“ABPI Scotland was delighted to be part of SCDI’s steering group and remain committed to delivering the safe use of healthcare data for all of Scotland’s citizens.”

Steph Wright, Director of Health & Wellbeing Engagement, The Data Lab, said:

“Data and AI have huge potential to significantly impact the delivery of better health and social care in Scotland. As Scotland’s innovation centre for data and AI, we at the Data Lab were delighted to contribute to this report.

“We look forward to working with everyone to realise this potential.”