Our data journey must begin with a first step


There may be problems with healthcare data… but it is the future, says Prof Antony Narula.


Prof Antony Narula, consultant ENT surgeon, who concentrates on private practice following early retirement from NHS in 2014

As doctors know, there are inherent issues with many healthcare data schemes.

The difficulty is, when there are high-profile cases of poor care, there is a tendency to over-legislate. In trying to legislate for individual cases, you can often come up with a huge bureaucracy with limited benefit.

If you look at the publication of annual performance data from the NHS, it has been fraught with problems. In the first year, some vascular surgeons were pilloried in the national media for activity which had been wrongly attributed to them. It was a shambles.

There are also problems with what can be meaningfully measured using data. There is a trap here in social sciences known as the McNamara fallacy, named after Robert McNamara, the US Secretary of Defence in the 1960s.

As he pointed out, you can’t measure what’s important, so you measure what you can, and that becomes important.

Surgery is often the starting point for measurement, because surgery fits into neat and identifiable units of activity.