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The Open Data Institute (ODI) is working with Surrey and Borders Partnership NHS Foundation Trust to help the trust embed ethical thinking and practice across its digital teams.

What is the challenge?

Data ethics is a rapidly emerging area, and a failure to handle data ethically can harm people and lead to a loss of trust in projects, products or organisations. Sensitive data about people is at the heart of organisations like Surrey and Borders Partnership NHS Foundation Trust. The trust is required to use this data effectively to improve welfare, while also protecting that data and clearly communicating the purpose of collecting the data. This tension – between protecting people and data about them, and using that data to create societal benefits – is common in the health sector.

An effective approach to embedding data ethics should mix theoretical knowledge with practical skills. It is important to identify a definition of ‘good’; to define principles that align with the ethos and culture of the organisation; and to implement those principles and embed ethical practice to tackle challenging data situations.

Rafiah Patel, Chief Digital Ethics and Privacy Officer and leader of this joint initiative tweeted:

I am honoured to collaborate with @ODIHQ to shape the @sabpNHS journey of digital ethics and show how to do digital the right way in the @NHSuk. Please retweet & support: @tobyavery @_DougStewart @mikecavaye @graham_wareham @heathercaudle @Lorna_Payne @helenrostill @NetworkShuri — Rafiah (@RafiahB) April 29, 2022

Why is ethical treatment of data in healthcare important?

Information collected by health and social care organisations helps to improve individual care, speed up diagnosis, plan local services and research new treatments. Data saves lives. It also saves time and budget that can be redirected to patient care. It is vital that data is collected, used and stored ethically, and is perceived as such, to preserve the trust that is fundamental to achieving these benefits.

Ethical treatment of data can be a difficult subject. Practitioners at all levels in healthcare need appropriate processes, guidance and support to help them make the best choices and apply data ethics consistently.

Our approach

Our team at the ODI is excited to be working with the trust to help build effective data ethics practice, and to deliver the following objectives:

  • Improve organisation-wide understanding of data and digital ethics and the role this plays within the trust
  • Discover and adopt methodologies to help teams apply a data ethics lens to service design and delivery
  • Improve key personnel’s understanding of data ethics, through skills and knowledge development

Any questions?

If you have any questions about this project or about data ethics, please contact us.