Patients will be given greater access to their GP records by November 2022 as well as better control over their data in a new health data strategy that aims to give health and care professionals the information they need to provide the best care.

The strategy - Data Saves Lives: Reshaping Health and Social Care with Data - will also allow researchers to access data in secure ways through Secure Data Environments to drive innovation and deliver cutting edge patient care.

Patients will also able to more easily request historic information including diagnosis, blood test results and immunisations from December 2023.

Health and Social Care Secretary Sajid Javid launched the new strategy at London Tech Week’s HealthTech Summit and said the programme of reform that will make sure the NHS is set up to meet the challenges of 2048 - not 1948, when it was first established.

He added: "This landmark document will look at how we can build on this momentum and apply the lessons challenges ahead of us, including tackling the Covid backlog and making the reforms that are vital to the future of health and care. It shows how we will use the power of data to bring benefits to all parts of health and social care."

Significant enthusiasm across the NHS for digital transformation

Health leaders welcomed the strategy and said it was an important step towards enabling the NHS to use the power of data more effectively to improve patient care and be more efficient.

The NHS Confederation said that if more adults use the NHS App then it will help free up staff time and put more patients in control of their healthcare.

It did warn, however, with more than one in 10 adults in the UK not owning a smartphone, the government needs to be mindful about the risk of widening health inequalities.

Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, added: “NHS staff often have to deal with clunky IT systems that can hinder their productivity and make their jobs harder than they need to be. These steps announced today will remove some of the barriers they face and will help to arm health and social care professionals with the information they need.  

“The measures in the strategy will also strengthen public trust by further protecting patients’ privacy. We will never be able to fully achieve our digital ambitions in the NHS until we have much greater trust from the public in terms of how their data is being used.   

“As the NHS has already demonstrated with the rise in both virtual GP and outpatient appointments and the roll-out of virtual wards, there is significant enthusiasm across the NHS for digital transformation. This step change in digital transformation is vast and will take time.”

Give patients greater confidence in data safety

To give patients greater confidence than ever that their personal information is safe, Secure Data Environments will be made the default for NHS and adult social care organisations to provide access to de-identified data for research. This means data linked to an individual will never leave a secure server, and can only be used for agreed research purposes.

The opt out processes for data sharing with also be simplified alongside a new “data pact” which will set out how the healthcare system will use patient data, and what the public has the right to expect.

The strategy also commits to a target of 75% of the adult population to be registered to use the NHS App by March 2024 after use increases greatly during the pandemic.

Data can help integrate health and social care

The strategy also includes £25 million for rapid digitisation of social care to meet commitment for at least 80% of social care providers to have digitised care records in place by March 2024.

It is hoped that integrated care records will enable smoother transitions between NHS services and social care, including quicker discharge from hospital freeing up valuable space.

Currently only 45% of social care providers use a digital social care record, and 23% of care home staff can not access the internet consistently at work. The data strategy reinforces the ambition for at least 80% of social care providers to have a digitised care record in place by March 2024.

NHS Digital CEO Simon Bolton added: "Better access to data will be vital for the NHS recovery and patient trust and confidence must be central to this. We are committed to giving patients more control and increasing transparency over how data is used to improve health and care services.

"Our Trusted Research Environment is already supporting lifesaving clinical research and innovation and we are working to deliver a new and improved National TRE service with improved accessibility and the highest standards of privacy and security."