Why does an organisation like the NHSCFA need a data strategy? To answer that question, we first need to consider that almost every aspect of the organisation’s work is underpinned by the use of data. A data strategy is useful in setting out our approach to using data and how data use can contribute to our wider strategic objectives. Perhaps even more importantly, the strategy serves to reinforce standards of good practice regarding the gathering, use, storage and retention of data.
The opportunity to update the NHSCFA Data Strategy – the latest version has just been released – came with the conclusion of the previous three-year strategy in 2021, however there probably could not have been a better time to take stock of where we are in terms of our use of data and set our direction for the future. One of the things that immediately stood out when reviewing the previous strategy was just how much had changed - a lot can happen in three years and, as COVID-19 has demonstrated, not all of it can be planned for.
In terms of the NHSCFA’s application of data, it was clear a great deal of progress had been made. There has never been more widespread utilisation of data within the organisation in terms of supporting our own work, measuring our performance, informing stakeholders and directing activity. We’ve refined our approach to data projects, had some notable successes in terms of collaborative work and had some very positive outcomes from individual exercises – however, that is not to say there wasn’t a great deal of work ahead of us either.
A look at the context
The strategy naturally fits the principles of the wider NHSCFA Strategy and other aligned strategies for the organisation, including the Digital Strategy, as well as individual policies concerning data. However it does not exist in isolation from external considerations either – in drawing it together I needed to consider the 2020 UK Government launched a Data Strategy for the NHS, the maturation of the Government Counter Fraud Function and associated standards and even new initiatives like the Data Alliance Partnership being spearheaded by NHSX. Finally, and most importantly, I needed to consider our audience in terms of the general public and the confidence they need to have in what we are doing with data and how we are doing it. NHS fraud data relates to NHS activity, which in turn invariably consists of patients, staff and their activity – we must always be mindful of how it is accessed, applied and protected.
Our strategic aims for data
In considering the challenges we face and then, in directing how we meet them, this strategy outlines the following objectives for the next three years:
- Standardise approaches to different data sources gathered utilised by NHSCFA through the creation of an Integrated Data Assurance Framework.
- Creation of an organisational data hub, making data accessible, effective, efficient, and able to support decision making at all levels.
- Creation of a pro-data culture.
- Identify new analytical opportunities through the development of data projects.
- A clear, transparent, and ethical approach to accessing and using data.
- Promote data analytics within the NHSCFA across the public sector, nationally and internationally.
- Promote and support wider NHSCFA strategies.
Of course, I could not do justice to any of the above in this short article, so I welcome you to take a closer look.
The most important aspect is to make sure this strategy is more than just a document – to take the principles and apply them into activity. We’ve already achieved a great deal of this with the application of the Data Strategy Group to act as the central point of oversight, the first few meetings of the Data Access Group and the promise of workshops to unveil new data products for the entire organisation. I am confident that this strategy will leave a marked impact on the work we do and help continue to shape the organisation for the next three years.