Data Saves Lives: Roundtable event on public health


Representation of digital health data on tablet device

Imperial researchers brought together national and local government, and NHS organisations, to discuss patient data and improving public health.

Imperial College London researchers met with health professionals and policymakers from the NHS and national and local government to explore the future use of patient data to improve public health.

The Forum, Imperial College London's policy engagement initiative, partnered with the UK think tank Reform to hold a roundtable discussion on ‘harnessing technology for public health’ in Westminster on Monday, 4 July. Professor John Newton, Director of Health Improvement at the UK Government’s Office for Health Disparities and Inequalities opened and led the discussion.

The event featured three Imperial College London researchers – Jennifer Quint, Professor of Respiratory Epidemiology; Paul Aylin, Professor of Epidemiology and Public Health; and, Aldo Faisal, Professor of AI and Neuroscience. Other participants included a number of Directors of Public Health from UK local government, and clinical and non-clinical staff from a range of local and national NHS organisations.

The discussion was held under the Chatham House Rule and the reflections below have been anonymised.

Photo of Professor Jennifer Quint, Imperial College London
Professor Jennifer Quint

Challenges and opportunities for improving the use of data in public health

Several challenges facing the UK’s public health bodies in relation to use of data were identified – such as quality of data, training of workforce, and transparency.

Speakers emphasised the upskilling of the existing health workforce and the wider need to improve clinical education on how to gather and use health data effectively, as well as the current under-utilisation of patient data. They reinforced the need for qualified professionals to analyse and interpret data now that health data sets have become widely available, to prevent misinterpretations leading to bad decisions.

The standardisation of data (for example, consistency in the use of disease and demographic data codes) across the wider health records system was cited as an example of ways in which our use of existing datasets could be improved.

Participants also reflected on the way in which the promise of ‘linked data’, bringing health and non-health datasets together, was now becoming a reality. The discussion cautioned that it was important to learn the lessons of the unsuccessful ‘’ initiative by making sure that public confidence is built and maintained throughout any new attempt to harness the use of patient data.

Future directions for research and action

The event concluded with a few thoughts on the future direction of research and practice on aspects of data use and public health. There was consensus that the integration of non-clinical data (local government data, data from the Office for National Statistics, and consumer data) would make public health data more effective at identifying and managing risks.

Another note of agreement was on the urgent need for leadership both on workforce training and on the surveillance of non-communicable diseases – areas in which current leadership and dedicated funding have been lacking.

This roundtable discussion was the first in a series of three to be held over coming weeks. The second discussion will focus on the role of patient data in identifying and overcoming health inequalities.


Craig Whittall

Craig Whittall
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Public-health, Government-and-policy, Big-data, The-Forum
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