Data-driven innovation for improving health and social care outcomes

Written by
Professor Roger Halliday, CEO of Research Data Scotland

People’s health and wellbeing can improve faster through evidence informed data driven decisions and services. That’s why I’m delighted to see the publication of Scotland’s first data strategy for health and social care, and pleased that Research Data Scotland (RDS) is featured in the delivery of a number of the strategy’s commitments.

The strategy takes a person-centred view of how the many ongoing challenges faced by the healthcare sector can be solved by embracing innovation.

Health and social care services are under huge pressure as we recover from the pandemic and we must harness research driven innovation to address the backlog in care; meet the ongoing healthcare needs of people across Scotland; and tackle long standing, well known health inequalities.

The underlying principle, which the strategy is based on, is championing ethical approaches to data. RDS has a role to play here – the Protected Characteristics Linkage Dataset, which will improve the ability of service providers and researchers to study issues of access to, and outcomes from, the health and social care services for people with different protected characteristics.

You can find out more about the equalities dataset in this blog.

People-centred approach

What’s striking about the strategy is the focus of people-centred vision with three key audiences highlighted:

  • the public who are empowered to manage and contribute their data
  • the people who deliver health and social care services
  • the researchers and users who can only support innovation when fit for purpose data is readily accessible through secure and safe means.

RDS can support researchers in this way, particularly by working in partnership with other organisations like Scottish Government, Public Health Scotland, Regional Safe Havens and NHS Research Scotland.

Data for research and innovation

RDS exists to unlock the power of public sector data to make it quicker and simpler to do research and improve lives. So, I am delighted that the Researcher Access Service, which will be the end-to-end pathway for researchers to apply for and get access to data for research, is highlighted in the action plan. The service intends to provide a streamlined, lawful, fair and safe access and linkage of data for the public good – and we’re working closely with partners and stakeholders to create a credible service that will be relevant and useful for researchers.

Other areas of focus for us includes seeking to expand population and data coverage of data safe havens, working with others to clarify terms for access and use of data for industry projects and supporting research and innovation where there is a clear public benefit for people in Scotland.

Priority areas for action

There is a strong track record in Scotland for life sciences. However, there are opportunities to attract many more research jobs by curating excellent data and creating the environment for research partnerships between academia, industry and the public sector.

I’ve written before that I’m passionate about our vision to create the conditions for data-driven innovation to happen systematically across Scotland to enable collaborations that save time, money and lives. The data strategy for health and social care nicely lays a way forwards towards that goal. We now need to make that a reality. Research Data Scotland has already started to deliver on the areas that align with our mission and vision. But we can’t and won’t do that alone; collaboration with partners, data owners, the public and stakeholders will continue to be how we improve lives with data.

This blog was first published on the Research Data Scotland website on 24 February 2023

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