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In conversation: Data at Scale Improvement Projects

In conversation: James Friend, Director of Digital Strategy, NHS England – London Region & Neelam Patel, MedCity CEO.

Improved healthcare outcomes, research and product development are being targeted in new Data at Scale Improvement Projects across London.

Last month, OneLondon announced that it will support up to ten new Data at Scale Improvement Projects, as part of the London Health Data Strategy programme, which will use pan-London data to drive forward real improvements in health and care across the capital.

The programme builds on the work of OneLondon, founded in 2018 as a collaborative of London’s five Integrated Care Systems (health and care partnerships formed by NHS organisations and local councils) and the London Ambulance Service. OneLondon is supported by NHS England (London region), the Greater London Authority, and London’s three Academic Health Science Networks (AHSNs). MedCity has also contributed to the development of OneLondon’s strategy in representing the needs of life science companies and submitting use cases.

To find out more about the development of pan-London data, the new Improvement Projects and what they will mean for the London ecosystem, we sat down with James Friend and Neelam Patel for a deep dive, starting with the background to the current programme and how MedCity became involved.


MedCity has always championed innovation development and entrepreneurship, helping founders to navigate the complex ecosystem, and so some of our early work involved mapping data repositories. We became part of the group developing data hubs in London to ensure that SME and industry needs were considered. This is when I first connected with Luke Readman (Regional Director Digital Transformation, NHS London) and led to us providing input to OneLondon and the development of the London Health Data Strategy programme. In particular, much of our efforts have been focused on how industry can best partner with data controllers to access trusted health data environments, with the ultimate aim of enabling better patient outcomes.

James, where is OneLondon now, in terms of providing that access to clinicians, patients and digital health SMEs?


Individual hospitals, Clinical Commission Groups (CCGs) and Integrated Care Systems (ICSs) had already started to build infrastructure to enable securely shared patient data, and what OneLondon has done is to build on and evolve that to a greater extent over the past three or four years, which includes having a consistent set of standards for the data.

Now that is in place, clinicians have viewed around 20 million OneLondon patient records to date, enabling the clinician to see what has taken place at other hospitals for that particular patient. This is very useful if you’re part of a pathway that spans different hospitals, or have multiple treatment needs.

In terms of shared care records, we describe three different levels: the clinical sharing of data, pooling London’s data for improvement, and enabling members of the public to access their own care record digitally, which will gradually be done through the NHS App. We already have 1.7 million residents in London who will be able to view their secondary care activity alongside their primary care activity on the NHS App, which was just launched a month ago. As of today, that is happening through St George’s Hospital, but there will be ten more hospitals connected over the coming months.


London is renowned for data and AI-enabled technologies and talent, as our report on Life Sciences Data & AI highlighted, and so access to data is a real priority in optimising the city’s potential for innovation development, driving economic growth and ultimately providing better patient care. How do the three aspects of OneLondon that you’ve just outlined support innovation and contribute to the wider NHS England digital transformation strategy?


A specific example would be how the single data environment of OneLondon is helping support the creation of a sub-national secure data environment through the agreement of all the relevant partners – our leading clinical research universities, the five NHS Integrated Care Boards, NHS England, the Greater London Authority and our Citizen Representatives. This enables SMEs, university teams, and others to easily access the answer to dataset queries that they might want to use for healthcare product development or clinical academic research. This is all done with the aim of using the data at scale, to drive improvement in the health of people who live and work in London – all based around the recognised “Six Safes” so that there is no risk of inappropriate use or access. We’ve also said that, through our secure sub-national data environment, we will look to partner with other parts of the country over a period of time, so that everyone benefits from the findings.

Health improvement can come in forms such as more consistent decision-making or healthcare product research and development. It can also involve supporting SMEs, driven by doctors and nurses who have seen a need for a particular product through their experience as healthcare workers, and enabling that need to be adopted on a London-wide scale.


The four Pathfinder projects that have been underway over the past 12 months are a terrific example of how this vision can play out, using data at scale to improve health outcomes. Whereas the Pathfinder projects were specifically for innovators working from within the NHS, the new Data at Scale Improvement Projects will be open to industry – how else will they differ?


Yes, we’re now going beyond NHS organisations, and we’re being much more explicit this time around about the things that we are interested in working with, particularly in thinking about the priorities for the Integrated Care Boards. These projects have to benefit from working at scale, as opposed to something that could be done locally with the same result. A key part of this has been looking at the Core20plus5principle, which refers to the 20% of the population with the greatest health needs, and the five priority clinical themes: maternity, severe mental illness, chronic respiratory disease, early cancer diagnosis, and hypertension. We’re confident that this is the time to recruit for new projects going into 2023/4, using a mixture of NHS and non-NHS organisations. We want to tap into the innovative skillset that is out there beyond the NHS that will drive life sciences development for years to come.

We’re also up for coaching some of these project teams to make the best use of the data that might be available, so that we can focus on successful outcomes at a clinical and frontline level. If there are areas where an applicant doesn’t feel particularly knowledgeable or confident, we are asking them to highlight that, so that we can coach them effectively. We’ll happily support SMEs, as long as we feel that the project objective is big enough to meet the agendas of our Integrated Care Boards.

We’ve really valued our relationship with MedCity in opening up opportunities to test the marketplace and understand the needs of SMEs, and to use your networks to encourage people to sign up to our application process. For example, from a webinar that we hosted about the new projects, 50% of attendees were non-NHS, which I think shows both the demand from SMEs in your community, and that we have been able to reach them.


A connected data ecosystem makes it easier for SMEs who are short of resource and specific expertise to find this effectively, so we have been very keen to actively support the shaping of the London Health Data Strategy programme, and to amplify the news that SMEs can now apply to be part of the new Data at Scale Innovation Projects.

The London Health Data Strategy represents a huge opportunity for London and the UK to leverage the existing strengths we have in our diverse patient population and health data from primary, secondary, specialist and social care, along with the expertise and secure data environments that allow industry to engage with the ecosystem in a safe way. Other countries are also accelerating at pace in this area, and it’s vital that we retain our competitive edge. With the London Health Data Strategy, we can extend our existing ability to use data for real world evaluation of innovation and clinical trials, thereby accelerating innovation development.

Apply now

Apply now to the Data at Scale Improvement Projects. Applications are being invited from healthcare SMEs, academia and NHS organisations to lead pioneering Improvement Projects that will improve the health of Londoners using the power of data. Funding will be available for NHS-led projects.


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