We don’t need more data, we need better connected data, and investment in the people who make it useful.

According to an article published in The Guardian “The government is to set up the most comprehensive database yet to measure the health of people in England as part of leaked plans to improve life expectancy and boost the fight against the biggest deadly diseases. Ministers intend to create a “composite health index” which will track whether the population’s health is getting better or worse and the stark difference between rich and poor when it comes to illnesses such as cancer, diabetes and heart disease.”

My learned friend Steve Senior wrote an excellent blog on this here and I’ve attempted a short rejoinder below.

A couple of things stand out for me. My eyebrows raised at the mention that this new index is to be tracked alongside GDP, particularly given that I was under the (apparently misguided) impression that GDP was yesterdays news and we were all moving towards more meaningful measures of economic inclusiveness and value beyond simple growth. I also worry that there could be an attempt to use such data to frame the value of prevention interventions and attempt to measure their success through their impact on GDP alone, which would be wrongheaded.

Fundamentally though, this is just not needed. As others have pointed out- we are pretty rich in terms of data in this space, with PHOF, QALYs, HLE, LE, WEMWEBS etc. The challenges are not about creating more indicator sets or databases, but are really to do with how we best use the data we have to inform decision making. How do we cast new light on the data we have by deploying the developing public sector skills base in Business Intelligence and Data Science? How do we help our organisations to use the data we have already to become more savvy? How do we develop and foster communities of practice, on social media like Twitter and in the blogosphere, to develop expertise that is trusted and valued by commissioners? And how do we do this all where we work in organisations where valuable data is still sometimes stored in paper records, or exists in closely guarded silos, and where there are a data governance and IG rules that make it difficult to link our datasets together across the NHS and Social Care networks.

To me, these are the fundamental questions that must be answered if we are going to make the best, high-impact use of the data we have. I suspect it is easier to announce a shiny new product than it is to lead on these challenges which will require real financial investment in people, training, and skills development. Moreover this new index will, unless the ongoing cuts to public services are reversed, simply provide a new way of measuring the scale of a prevention problem to which central government are investing a lot of words but precious little resource.





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