When the UK’s national health service, the NHS, announced in February that it would spend a whopping £2.3bn on a new data-sharing programme called Data-Aware, its critics were left with a dilemma: how much is this spending really worth?
How much is £2bn worth?
For the NHS it means the £2,000 a year it takes to send information about how people are faring, the £500 a year the health minister spends on health information, the money it spends to develop its own data-collection software.
The data collected by the service is shared with companies such as Facebook and Google, but it’s not all of it.
“This is an information service,” said Jonathan Blaney, director of data science at the National Audit Office, a body that is supposed to scrutinise the way public services are managed.
In some cases, the information is anonymised and made available to researchers and public bodies, while in others it’s sold on to third parties such as drug companies and hospitals.
The NHS has a number of contracts to share the data, including a deal with Facebook to make its news feeds publicly available.
The service is also paid for with money it collects from the NHS itself, which pays £1.5bn a year to access and use its vast databases.
And the data can also be used to build the NHS’s other information systems, which include information systems to track people’s health, prevent disease and monitor the effects of drugs.
So how much does it cost?
The data-collecting service is managed by a new body, Data and Analytics Network (DAN), a consortium of organisations that run a database that covers more than 50,000 NHS sites.
DAN uses the data to make data-tracking tools and to produce a data-gathering and management software.
But it is not, as some critics claim, free of cost.
The government has been lobbying for a data contract for a long time, and the DAN contract, for example, would pay for a tool that could be used by any NHS organisation to track how well a patient is doing on a course of treatment.
Data from DAN’s database is also shared with health insurers, which then sell the information to health service providers such as the NHS.
It is also used by the NHS to track patients’ health information as they are referred to doctors.
DAN is funded by a government contract that is worth around £1bn a day.
If the NHS is to pay for all this information, why aren’t more people using it?
In theory, it’s possible that the data collected and used by DAN is free of charge, and if the NHS wants to pay money for that data, that would mean people would be free to do so.
However, the data itself can cost thousands of pounds.
According to the NHS data-privacy guidelines, any NHS data should be treated as confidential and should not be used for commercial purposes.
It also states that if there is a breach of the privacy, the hospital will be entitled to ask for the patient’s medical records, and hospital staff should be given the right to access any data that might be used in relation to their duties.
One of the organisations that has been pushing for DAN contracts is the Information Privacy Forum, a group of companies that say they are in the business of providing NHS data.
A spokesperson for the group said it was happy to pay £5 per NHS patient for their records and that DAN data was also used to develop a database to monitor people’s wellbeing.
How many NHS staff have been working with DAN?
Since it was set up in 2014, the DANS programme has had some success.
It has recorded about 5,000 patient visits per month and has seen a reduction in the number of hospital admissions.
The database has also helped the NHS establish what services it is paying for and has helped improve its data-management system.
There are currently 2,000 staff working with the programme, who are responsible for maintaining and improving the data-busting software.
According to the spokesperson, about half of the staff have spent more than six months working on the project, and one in four have been part of the team for five years.
The spokesperson said that the organisation was proud of its work and that the group was committed to continuing to improve the quality of its data and to the delivery of its services.
What happens next?
It’s hard to say, but the future of the Dans programme is uncertain.
It was set-up in response to pressure from the European Commission, which is considering a new regulation to allow the sharing of patients’ medical records.
Currently, the government is negotiating a new contract with DANS.
That means the government has to find a way to negotiate a new deal with