Health data must be better utilised if we are to effectively tackle the NHS backlog, according to researchers from across the UK.

The new paper, published in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, says the success of the UK’s Covid response is down to the use of up-to-date, publicly available data and we should now use the same tactics to tackle the NHS backlog.

The authors of the paper highlight the critical need to tackle backlogs in cardiovascular disease and cancer, as these diseases kill more than 300,000 people in the UK every year.

However, lead author Professor Amitava Banerjee, UCL Institute of Health Informatics, also an honorary consultant cardiologist at Barts Health NHS Trust says that much of the health data that we need “are in silos or inaccessible, which is not in the best interest of the patient.”

Quick and decisive action needed to prevent another epidemic

The paper demonstrates how Health Data Research UK, the UK’s health data research hub for cancer and the British Heart Foundation Data Science Centre, is making important use of health data to inform healthcare policy.

It shows that DATA-CAN’s work on the impact of the first Covid wave on cancer contributed to the restoration of UK cancer services and has had a pan-European impact.

Senior author Professor Mark Lawler (Queen’s University Belfast), Scientific Director of DATA-CAN, the UK’s Health Data Research Hub for Cancer, said that until we start to make use of the population’s health data, we are at risk of experiencing “an epidemic for both of these common diseases, from which it may take a decade to recover.”

The researchers argue that now, the UK must use data to look at the indirect and long-term effects of Covid-19, otherwise we risk impacting both individual and the health service at a huge level.