The UK's National Health Service (NHS) serves 65 million people, but much of the data it generates is not extensively mined. That, though, may be set to change.
In a new UK government-commissioned review, Oxford University's Sir John Bell has has indicated that NHS data could be used to feed AI networks and develop other algorithms that could be used throughout the NHS.
The NHS serves the vast majority of the UK population -- Bell puts it at 65 million in the report -- so the data it collects would provide a very representative view of the UK's overall health and could provide useful insights for all parts of the NHS and the people it treats.
In the review, Bell, one of the UK's Life Sciences Champions, notes: "The development of platforms to enable deidentified health data to be appropriately used to research and develop technologies would be of great benefit to patients in the system, to those managing the NHS and to researchers attempting to develop new therapies or improve NHS care."
Unlike data from revenue-generating organizations such as Transport for London, a private enterprise that opened up its data in 2007 -- and upon which the app Citymapper was built -- it is unlikely that this data could be made open, due to the strict confidentiality rules to which the NHS adheres. However, there is nothing stopping the NHS from using the data itself, to increase the quality of care for patients or to research new drugs and treatments.
In the report, Bell states, "Enhancing the UK's capabilities for discovery and development of new medicines, creating new diagnostics and medtech capabilities, and building companies that develop whole new areas of medical innovation using data analytics, artificial intelligence and engineering will allow the UK economy to benefit from the next exciting era of health-related innovation and will also provide the tools for transforming our healthcare system."
The NHS will have to be careful here, however: Earlier this year it was caught in a data-sharing scandal, when the NHS Royal Free Hospital engaged in a deal to "to develop and deploy a new clinical detection, diagnosis and prevention application and the associated technology platform for the Trust" with Google-owned DataMind. The Information Commissioner's Office decided that this went against data protection laws and duly made the Royal Free Hospital undergo training to improve management of its data. (See DeepMind NHS Deal Breached Data Protection Laws, Says ICO.)
The entire, 75-page report is available to read here and covers five sections: "Reinforcing the UK Science Offer", "Growth & Infrastructure – making the UK the best place for life sciences businesses to grow", "NHS collaboration", "Skills" and "Regulation".