2019 marks thirty years since the Hospital Episode Statistics (HES) data collection was established on the recommendation of Dame Edith Korner. As the NHS is famed for its innovation, three decades feels like a geological timescale. Some might wonder, whether HES is the data equivalent of the fax machine?

HES is used more now, than ever before.  It has since been joined by over 100 other national data assets, curated by NHS Digital.

Far from an irrelevance, these assets underpin the functioning of the health and social care system. As well as enabling providers to be paid for the care they provide, benchmark their performance, and provide insights to the needs of a population, they provide policy makers with the data they need to direct their efforts – see almost any page of the recent NHS Long-Term Plan.

We are proud of how this data is also made available to the UKs world-class research community, to identify feasible cohorts, gain insights on them, or to track them over time.  It has resulted in hundreds of peer reviewed publications, and supported development of new policies, therapies, treatments, and actionable tools.

Supporting research with data

Despite recent progress, we are fully aware that data curated by NHS Digital can be used more effectively to support research.  We are very determined to be an excellent partner of research.  We are reshaping our teams, our data architecture, and are finishing building the Data Processing Services platform that will transform how providers submit data and how authorised researchers work with it, while strengthening patient privacy.  We are grateful for the advice of our Research Advisory Group.  You can learn more about our work here.

We are proud, along with partners, to be founder members of the UK Health Data Research Alliance, catalysed by HDR UK.  It perfectly complements the improvements in NHS Digital.   We are already working together to focus on new key data assets for research, such as a Standard GP dataset or community dispensing data, or how to simplify data access for researchers across UK data controllers.

Together with HDR UK, the life sciences sector, and our many other partners, we hope to enable a health and care system that learns from every patient who is treated – the world’s first truly national Learning Health and Care System.

This is a guest blog for HDR UK and reflects the interests/knowledge of its author. Our blogs are designed to stimulate debate and are not necessarily reflective of HDR UK’s opinion