News & blog

Read the latest news and blogs from The Data Lab and Scotland’s data science community.

Back to news & blog»

SCDI logo - mind the gap in health and social care

Closing Scotland’s Data Gap in Health & Social Care

Steph Wright, Director of Health & Wellbeing Engagement from The Data Lab participated in the steering group of the Scottish Council for Development and Industry’s (SCDI) Mind the Gap report on big data and the health economy. Here we invite David Kelly, Policy Manager at SCDI to tell us a bit more about the report. David Kelly is Policy Manager at the Scottish Council for Development and Industry (SCDI), a ‘think-and-do tank’.

You can find the SCDI’s Mind the Gap report on their website.

Learning the Lessons of COVID-19

From our hospitals and schools to our workplaces and care homes, COVID-19 has tested Scotland like perhaps never before. Our doctors, nurses, pharmacists and carers on the frontlines of the pandemic have been heroic and deserve our support to recover and build resilience for the next crisis or the next wave of disruption.

We need to learn the lessons of the pandemic as we look to the future. The price of our unpreparedness for this crisis has been too high. Too many lives have been lost and too many livelihoods have been damaged.

COVID-19 has shown more powerfully than ever that we need a healthy society for a healthy economy (and vice versa). The pandemic has also demonstrated globally the power of real-world health & social care data to save lives.

The importance of health & social care data

Health & social care data has helped politicians, policymakers, researchers, innovators and health & social care professionals to identify, monitor and control outbreaks; design public health restrictions and business support; develop new, more effective treatments; and accelerate the delivery of the vaccine.

Nations like Singapore, South Korea and Taiwan which (learning from the SARS outbreak in East Asia in 2002) prioritised long-term, strategic investment in health & social care data and innovation better utilised data, digital and technology to respond more swiftly and more successfully to the virus. Albeit within different political and health systems, these countries have saved lives, protected livelihoods and minimised or even eliminated disruption to daily life.

Scotland, meanwhile, has made some progress in harnessing data, digital and technology during the emergency response to the pandemic – including through the national rollout of the Test & Protect strategy, Protect Scotland app and NearMe video consultations with GPs, as well as more timely data sharing.

Nevertheless, progress has been limited and uneven. There is still much to do. And, as we recently set out in Mind the Gap – a new SCDI report in partnership with The Data Lab – there are huge potential social and economic gains to be delivered.

Mind the Gap – between the data we are collecting and the data we should be collecting

The report takes its name from what we’ve called ‘Scotland’s Data Gap’. We’ve defined this as ‘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’.

Health & social care data can be generated in many different contexts – from clinical or care settings like hospitals, pharmacies and care homes, to community or commercial settings like online retail or through wearables and the Internet of Things – to give new insights to inform the actions and decisions of health & social care professionals, researchers or innovators.

Health & social care data must be ethical, secure and anonymised as far as possible with robust and transparent governance arrangements. Data must be trustworthy and trusted (above all by patients and service users).

The alleged concerns or scepticism of the public is often cited as a barrier to change or to data sharing, but there is in fact a strong mandate for change. Research shows Scots are overwhelmingly happy for their personal health & social care data to be ethically, securely and appropriately collected, shared and analysed to help themselves and others.

Trustworthy collection of health & social care data is the gateway to enhancing care and delivering better outcomes

Even before the pandemic, Scotland faced a series of major and escalating public health crises which have long damaged our society and our economy, from inequality to mental health. These issues have prevented all our people from achieving their full potential and increased the risks to public health of a virus like COVID-19.

The costs to Scotland’s families, communities and taxpayers of long-term ill-health are high, as are levels of obesity, alcohol misuse and substance abuse. Our life expectancy is the lowest in Western Europe and stalling, even as it continues to rise in other countries. Scotland has more drug deaths per capita than any other country in Europe. LGBT people are more than twice as likely to commit suicide. Gypsy/Travellers are twice as likely to suffer from health problems or disabilities.

Real-world and citizen-generated data together with randomised controlled trials evidence can deliver truly holistic health & social care insights in relation to the effectiveness of medicines and other interventions along the care pathway. Health & social care data can enable and underpin the use of new and emerging technologies like AI, automation, nanotechnology and precision medicine. It is the gateway to enhancing care and delivering better outcomes for patients and service users.

Closing the Gap – with a data strategy for health & social care

We were therefore delighted to see the Scottish Government’s commitment in its Programme for Government 2020/21 to ‘create a dedicated data strategy for health & social care for the first time’. Like Scotland’s AI Strategy, it is due to be published later in 2021.

In Mind the Gap, we call for its delivery to be backed by a Health & Social Care Transformation Fund which invests in four strategic priorities to close Scotland’s Data Gap:

· Strategy – Developing an ambitious, innovative and joined-up national approach

· Culture & Leadership – Empowering leaders to drive change by building an ambitious and collaborative national culture of innovation

· 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

Closing Scotland’s Data Gap will help reduce demand pressures on and protect the long-term future of the NHS and social care. We’ve estimated that it could be worth £800 million every year in better care, outcomes and quality of life, higher levels of productivity and new jobs and investment from global research and industry. We’ve also estimated that it could deliver £5.4 billion (or 38% of its current budget) in savings for NHS Scotland alone to reinvest. The case for investment could not be stronger.

We must act, invest and place at pace and with ambition. Scotland has a narrow window of opportunity to catch up with its competitors in East Asia and establish itself as a world leader in the global race for investment, jobs and inclusive growth.

Long-term, strategic investment in health & social care data will help Scotland recover and build resilience from COVID-19, transform health & social care and boost our economy.


Read SCDI’s Mind the Gap report:

Mind the Gap: How Data, Digital and Technology Can Help Scotland Recover from COVID-19, Transform Health & Social Care and Boost Our Economy


Share this story:

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on email