What data can and can’t do – and why its a threat

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They say, data is the most valuable asset in the world. Probably.

It creates opportunities and it creates threats. Opportunities to point us to do great good.

Threats to pinch yer money… twist the minds of our kids.

Both are true… but there is a greater truth.

There’s a fabulous piece of software, for local authorities. It scans social-care case-data.

It identifies domestic violence, substance abuse. Families where there’s been previous child welfare issues. It can look at court information, debts, county court judgements and take into account hospital admissions and visits to A&E.

No genius required to realise, it can spot cases of child abuse, possible child abuse and a mile off, families heading in that direction…… flag the case manager. Suggest action. Head trouble off at the pass.

In our other great public service, the use of data can save lives.

NHSE have an ‘identify-frailty policy’. GPs comb their data. Find older people with multiple morbidities, frequent contacts and who are a dot-on-the-card to end up falling, tripping and collapsing into the back of an ambulance.

Community staff can visit; identify trip hazards, put frequently used utilities within reach. Have a quiet look for clues; food in the cupboard alcohol on the sideboard. Is the bed made? Washing up done? Clothes neat and clean? The state of the loo. Indicators that someone might end up in A&E.

Data… what would we do without it?

But…Last year, in their ‘Childhood Day’ report, the NSPCC revealed half a million children suffered abuse.

In the same year, the NHS reported there were 800,000 unplanned admissions of the over 75yrs to hospital.

In the name of the little donkey… what’s going on?

We have the data, information, sign posts, the whiff of the wind. What happens? Nothing.

Why? There are five reasons:

1. Public services are mired in decision-making processes. Bureaucratic structures, multiple stakeholders, layers of approval, lengthy timelines.Pressing the button to get GP data… easy. What happens then?

Validation by the practice, community staff, often someplace else, to be advised and involved.Social services will want to have a say. A multidisciplinary team will decide, schedule and somebody will eventually knock on the door and say: ‘hello…’

Occupational therapy, domiciliary care, meals on wheels… referrals funded and organised.

2, Resource constraints: Allocating resources for proactive interventions based on data analysis is not on top of the day job. It is the day job… for whom?

3. Political considerations: that might influence decision-making. Proactive interventions based on data analysis may not align with the political agenda, priorities, or public opinion.

4. Authorities may hesitate, fearing backlash or political consequences. Busy-body social workers, lambasted in the headlines… and…… on Saturday, HMG announced it would be deferring implementation of its ban on two-for-one-deals in supermarkets, on the grounds there is a cost of living crisis…… despite overwhelming data based evidence to the contrary, it’s ok if low income families to eat crap-food.

5. Data quality and reliability: The effectiveness of proactive interventions relies on accurate and reliable data.Poor data collection processes may be flawed, quality compromised.

Gaps or inaccurate data can undermine the confidence authorities have, to make proactive decisions. Result, a more reactive approach.

Taking a child into care on the basis of a data-based forecast? It’d be a brave social worker.

Ethical and privacy concerns: Data collection and analysis for proactive interventions raises ethical and privacy concerns.Navigating legal and ethical frameworks to ensure that data from multiple sources is collected, stored, and used in compliance with privacy laws and regulations.

And the biggest reason of all: Allocating resources for proactive interventions based on data analysis requires money, manpower and infrastructure.

In health, 3,500 GPs left primary care in the last 12 months, a 42 per cent reduction in District Nurses, a 30 per cent reduction in Health Visitors, a 16 per cent reduction in residential home places, a 12 per cent fall in real terms funding for GP services…

In Social Care: 2020/21, there were around 105,000 vacancies across England on any one day. Staff turnover… around 34.4 per cent… and it’s getting worse.

Over 500 Gateshead council staff have left the local authority in one year.

Data saves work, creates work and shifts work. Data is fabulous but it can’t walk, talk, knock on a door, hold your hand or say don’t worry, you’re safe.

Are we smart enough to understand what data says, yes.

Are we smart enough to listen and resource what it tells us to do, no.

The bigger truth? Data is decorative, a trophy, not the utility it should be.

Data is an opportunity lost and that is the real threat.

This post first appeared on the NHSmanagers.net site. Roy writes that it “was the bones of my contribution to the Big Tent of Ideas event, at York, last weekend.

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Radix is the radical centre think tank. We welcome all contributions which promote system change, challenge established notions and re-imagine our societies. The views expressed here are those of the individual contributor and not necessarily shared by Radix.

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