Scotland unveils first-ever digital strategy for health and social care

The Scottish Government has unveiled plans for its first-ever data strategy for health and social care, aimed at transforming the way people access their personal health information and the way data is used to deliver services.

Launched by the Scottish Government and the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (COSLA), the five-year plan sets a new direction for how health is delivered in a digital and data-driven future. 

It focuses on eight key priority areas: ethical approaches of data, data access, talent and culture, sharing data, infrastructure, standards and interoperability, creating data-led insights and supporting research and innovation. 

The strategy aligns closely with Scotland’s Digital Health and Care Strategy, and the ambitions of the new National Care Service - legislation that is expected to drive significant opportunities to transform integrated care. 

"This strategy will be a dynamic, evolving, living document to adapt and respond to new and emerging data challenges as well as embracing the need to improve what we have already started when needed,"  Carol Sinclair, Strategic Data Advisor, Digital Health and Care at the Scottish Government, said in the strategy’s foreword

Sinclair has been appointed chair of the Health and Social Care Data Board, which has been setup to provide oversight and delivery of the data strategy. 

Data sharing and accessibility 

At its core, the strategy aims to improve the access to, and sharing of, health and social care data; and across intricately linked areas, such as housing, social security, and education.

The strategy aims to do this in a way that "empowers citizens and staff," said Sinclair.  It is believed that this will enable greater self-care and create more transparency around decisions that are made about the care and the support citizens receive.

For this reason, "public trust and the ethical use of data for public good is central to this strategy," Sinclair said.

"We are working alongside colleagues across government to ensure the principles of Open Government are followed as we define and publish key, ethically sound and publicly trusted principles."

Work is underway to develop a Digital Front Door, a platform that which will provide members of the public with digital access to their health and social care information. For example, sharing health data with Social Security Scotland to automate the process of getting benefits, or sharing
health data with prison services to enable better care. 

For health and social care staff, the strategy is committed to making it easier to access data across organisations by developing a consistent, integrated, and accessible, electronic social care and health record.

This includes making use of the planned new Community Health Index (CHI) system to enable improved data sharing. “By modernising the CHI system, we will be better placed to support our data infrastructure, allowing better matching of data and enabling better data linkage across the health and social care sector,” the strategy said.

Improving information standards 

Another key priority of the strategy is to improve and implement information standards and interoperability within the NHS and social care.

“There is currently a lack of consistency in the way data is recorded across the health and social care sector, which increases the risk of poor data quality,” the strategy said. “It is currently challenging to share data effectively across health and social care organisations.

“Improved sharing of data will be addressed through adopting common approaches to describing, storing, and making information findable and re-useable. The first step in this journey is agreeing and implementing information standards across the health and social care sector. We need to adopt robust data principles for how we collect, store and use data across health and social care.”

Developing digital and data skills

There is a strong need to develop the digital and data skills of Scotland’s system leaders and position them where they can drive the most change - working with NHS Education for Scotland, the Local Government Digital Office, and the Scottish Social Services Council. 

“We must develop and utilise the wider leadership skills of our workforce, including quality improvement and health and care recipients’ safety; and systems leadership through the confident and effective use of data,” Sinclair added.

According to the strategy, a future goal is to publish a game plan to address the digital skills gap. "The Building Digital Skills and Leadership Programme is focused on the skills required by staff to adapt to and use digital technology ethically... a detailed action plan is currently being produced to measure progress against the programme. This will provide a focus for the programme going forward, to ensure that data and digital skills gaps are addressed throughout."


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