Here is a summary of the roundtable organised by the National Preparedness Commission to discuss the Commission’s recent research ‘The Data Sharing Imperative: Lessons from the Pandemic’. The roundtable was held in March 2022 and there was widespread agreement on the merits of data sharing to protect vulnerable households and individuals during a major crisis or incident.


National Preparedness Commission Roundtable on “The Data Sharing Imperative”

A call to action for government to sponsor Priority Services Register data sharing governance

The National Preparedness Commission aims to promote better preparedness in the UK for a major crisis or incident. The Commission’s recent research ‘The Data Sharing Imperative: Lessons from the Pandemic’ focuses on how data sharing can support a state of readiness for a major crisis or incident.

Identifying  vulnerable households is key to providing support. Many essential service providers hold Priority Services Register (PSR) data on vulnerable households and there are advantages from these organisations sharing this data. It widens the support that can be directed to a vulnerable household and also delivers better value for money for public services. It can also support with communication needs, for a localised incident as well as a major crisis. This provides vulnerable households and individuals with the confidence that their local water or energy supplier will prioritise them and their needs at a time of crisis.

“I am happy the London Fire Brigade shared my data with Thames Water – I’m disabled and live alone and was grateful. It made me feel a lot safer knowing people know I need help.” Mr A, Church End, received bottled water during supply interruption

The research prepared for the Commission found that whilst data sharing is complex, it is also feasible. A wider understanding of the enabling legal environment is required to achieve a joined-up regulatory approach. While powers to share data exist, incentives are required to fully activate them. Data sharing needs to be normalised as both easy and systemic. Increased trust and transparency is fundamental to achieving this. Data sharing through legal mandate needs to be a foundational part of all resilience activities.

The Commission hosted a roundtable with a range of attendees including: NHS England, British Red Cross, GLA, utilities providers, Ofwat and Ofgem, The Royal Society, academia, the National Grid, Ordnance Survey, and local government.

The discussion highlighted good practice and there was widespread agreement amongst attendees on the merits of data sharing to protect vulnerable households and individuals. However, it was recognised that this was not always prioritised within organisations in the absence of clear regulatory guidance and central imperatives. There was recognition of the need for mandated and proactive approaches to data sharing, with collective leadership to ensure this is a priority and focus within organisations.

Much progress has been made in this area to date. The energy sector’s vertically separated organisations have leveraged existing data sharing mechanisms to share PSR data. Engagement with the Information Commissioners Office has confirmed a move away from consent towards a more appropriate legal basis. Regional data sharing between water and energy providers is underway. There are also best practice examples of how data sharing between water, energy and fire services has become as business as usual. Research has shown 92% of customers are reported to be happy with their data being shared in this context. Over £600k of funding has been levered from Ofwat’s innovation fund to develop a prototype hub for sharing and mastering PSR data.

There needs to be greater levels of collaboration, co-operation and governance across utility sectors and statutory bodies, to maintain this progress and prevent it from stalling. The consensus of the Commission’s roundtable was that a vehicle is needed to allow this collective action to develop further, with the convening power of government along with the combined resources and knowledge of utilities and statutory bodies. An ownership and governance framework for data sharing could be created, providing a model data sharing structure and privacy statement for organisations to align with.

The Commission has written to the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster following the round table to request government support for data sharing to support customers in vulnerable circumstances, and requesting government take the role of convener, with a nominated lead department.

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