Free Our Data: the blog

A Guardian Technology campaign for free public access to data about the UK and its citizens


In the Guardian: who owns the NHS’s data?

In Thursday’s Guardian, Michael Cross looks at the issue of the company set up by the NHS’s Health and Social Care Information Centre, a special health authority set up last year to act as a single source of official NHS data:

Few repositories of public sector information contain more political dynamite than those in NHS data sets. This week it was NHS staff numbers; next week it could be surgeons’ death rates. Earlier this year, the official custodian of the NHS’s data raised eyebrows by announcing a special relationship with a commercial firm. At least one competing business has questioned whether a level playing field is possible under the new arrangement.

Here’s why:

In January, however, ministers announced that the Health and Social Care Information Centre had struck a deal with one firm in this market, Dr Foster Ltd. The two set up a private company, Dr Foster Intelligence, to sell information derived from NHS data. The information centre invested £12m in the joint venture.

Free NHS data is useful – and some is available: such as local health statistics and illnesses relating to your GP (see http://www.gpcontract.co.uk/, created by Dr Gavin Jamie, a Swindon GP (not MP – typo); read more at the Ideal Government blog. The question is, should a government organisation really be tying up with a private one in this way over data that ought to be available to all?

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