05 Feb 2024
by Alex Lawrence

The Times Health Commission calls for 'patient passports'

This insight examines recommendations on digital health from The Times Health Commission, as well as recent policy proposals from the Labour Party and Tony Blair Institute for Global Change.

After a year looking into the future of healthcare in the UK and how to address areas the NHS is struggling with, The Times Health Commission has now published its report, making 10 recommendations to tackle these challenges.

It will not be startling to the digital health and care industry that the Commission concluded “technology has the power to transform healthcare”, but findings on public attitudes towards a key proposal for “NHS digital health accounts” may cause some surprise.

This first recommendation of the Commission, the creation of individual NHS digital health accounts called ‘patient passports’, outlines how the proposed passports:

  • Would enable every NHS patient to have their health information digitally stored in one place, so any doctor treating them can access their records
  • Could be accessed through the NHS App
  • Would allow for an overhaul of outdated and fragmented systems that prevent data sharing between different parts of the NHS and social care

The Times’ public polling via YouGov on this proposal revealed that patients are generally supportive, which is a positive indication that public understanding of both the processes and benefits of sharing health data could now be more widespread. Given previous controversies regarding the care.data scheme in 2013 and GPDPR in 2021, this should not be taken for granted.

 The findings of the polling include that:

  • 8 in 10 people support the creation of ‘patient passports’
  • 56% agree that the convenience of being able to easily book appointments and access care outweighed any risk to the privacy or security of their medical records (22% disagreed)
  • 68% would be happy for the NHS to allow other medical staff or clinicians to access their records
  • 64% would be willing for their data to be used anonymously for research

The Times also states that there is strong political appetite for the reforms and that Sir Keir Starmer has told the Commission there should be a “seamless system” that securely shares NHS data across all GP, social care, and hospital records.

This comes shortly after Labour set out plans to:

  • Seize the opportunity NHS Federated data platform offers, using this platform to improve the way we use patient data in the NHS, in a safe and secure way, to deliver better treatment and care
  • Drive interoperability between digital systems in the NHS and in care from the bottom-up, by making the NHS App a one-stop shop for health information

techUK supports the Commission’s recommendation on patient passports, as well as the Labour Party’s aims around improving interoperability. However, further work with NHS England, NHS trusts, social care provides, and the technology industry will be key to ensuring these ambitions are deliverable.   

It is great to see a range of key figures, all Commissioners for The Times report, emphasise the importance of digital health:

  • Sir John Bell, Regius Chair of Medicine at the University of Oxford: “We also urgently need a shift to preventing illness, a more personalised approach to healthcare, and an NHS where patients are active participants in maintaining their own health and these things can only be achieved using data and technologies such as artificial intelligence. The commission’s recommendations on this issue need to be acted on immediately before the efficiency of the health system declines further.”
  • Dame Clare Gerada, former president of the Royal College of General Practitioners said: “The future health system must invest in technology, data and digitalisation if it to meet the needs of tomorrow’s patients
  • Sir Patrick Vallance, former government chief scientific adviser: “Companies that invest in research and development tend to do better than those that don’t, and the same is true for healthcare systems. Investment and application of innovation from prevention through to cures is a route to sustainability.” 

Other key recommendations from The Times Health Commission include:

  1. A new ‘National Care System’
  2. Writing off student loans for doctors, nurses and midwives who stay in the NHS
  3. High-intensity theatre lists on weekends to drive down waiting list
  4. Reforming GP contract to focus on wider health outcomes
  5. Introducing no-blame compensation for medical errors
  6. Guaranteeing all children and young people requiring mental support can get accesss within four weeks
  7. Tackling obesity by expanding the sugar tax
  8. Incentivising NHS staff to take part in research
  9. Establishing a Healthy Lives Committee

Many more exciting policy proposals are coming to the fore ahead of a general election later this year, such as the Tony Blair Institute’s recent recommendation for an NHS Health Data Trust.

It is key that these organisations work with the digital health and care industry to understand current barriers that have prevented previous recommendations around data sharing in the UK from being achieved. techUK’s own Ten Point Plan for Healthtech, published in 2021, called on the health and care system to prioritise improving the public’s access to their own data, thereby empowering citizens and enable them to become ‘co-creators of their own health’.

We welcome the output from The Times Health Commission 10 recommendations. It has been a long-held understanding that patients expect that their NHS doctors or social care workers have relevant, up to the minute, accurate and safely available data. We hope this report can now give some encouragement to move forward with an initiative that draws this conclusion together. The techUK report, ‘Right from the Start’, shows our commitment to enable this capability as a sector at a local level - the technology exists – as does the will to change.

Shane Tickell, Chair of the techUK Health & Social Care Council

CEO of Temple Black and Voror Health Technologies

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Alex Lawrence

Alex Lawrence

Programme Manager, Health and Social Care, techUK