The United Kingdom faces a lack of equitable access to health care exacerbated by a lack of high-quality health data about many communities and a lack of data sharing between health-care services. New research funding for local authorities will help tackle health inequalities, but policymakers need to follow it up with other initiatives to further close the UK’s health data divide.
Better quality health data will help address health inequity faced in the United Kingdom. The country lacks high-quality data about the health of minorities and the state of health care in certain localities. Better quality data could allow individuals in these communities to access more accurate diagnoses and treatments and even know exactly how effective new treatments will be for their specific medical history.
Collecting representative data will also help the United Kingdom better allocate health-care resources and establish targeted patient care in underrepresented communities. In October 2022, the UK’s Department of Health and Social Care and the National Institute for Health and Care Research awarded £50 million to 13 local authorities for targeted data collection programs designed to improve data quality, provide funding to address inequitable data collection, and establish data strategies that collect representative data from communities. Local data can help specialist facilities plan care and inform data-driven decisions practices make. The United Kingdom should fund more local councils and agencies to ensure data collection in all communities that face heightened health inequity due to marginalized status, rural infrastructure, and other factors.
The United Kingdom also needs to improve health data sharing across every sector of its health system. The National Health Service (NHS) still lacks cohesive and coordinated data sharing between its services. Each primary care practice collects electronic health records, but these practices face challenges connecting these records at the NHS level. In fact, practices only sometimes connect or share these records locally. Specialist care providers often collect health data in different electronic health record systems, which are not always interoperable.
The United Kingdom could further close its health data divide through better data sharing for patient care. Interoperable health data can minimize inaccurate diagnoses and ensure patients in under-funded areas have access to data-driven health care. Making the nation’s top electronic health record systems interoperable will ensure that the majority of specialist and primary health records are easily accessible for patient care and demographic insights. Additionally, making sure electronic health records are interoperable regionally will help improve health outcomes regardless of where patients live. Ideally, these two steps will enable the NHS to work further towards a 100 percent interoperable national electronic health record system. The United Kingdom has recently committed to improving data accessibility as one of the tenets of its “Data Saves Lives” strategy and as part of its plans to continue data sharing practices developed during the COVID-19 pandemic, but the success of these initiatives will depend on their full implementation by the NHS.
The UK’s pursuit of using data-driven decision-making to tackle health inequity will strengthen optimal health-care allocation and patient care in the NHS, but it will only succeed if the UK closes its health data divide.