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Brighton & Sussex Medical School

Unlocking data

Unlocking data

The Unlocking Data project aims to inform public health policy and practice in Kent, Surrey and Sussex (KSS) by exploring barriers, and creating solutions, for public health intelligence using integrated datasets.

It is funded by the Public Health Research Programme in the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR project number 133761). 

What do these words mean?

Public Health is about helping people to stay healthy and protecting them from threats to their health. It is a branch of healthcare that doesn’t treat individual patients but plans services for the whole population of a city, town or county in order to help everyone be more healthy. Public health teams are employed in local councils (also called local authorities). 

Public Health intelligence is processing, analysing and interpreting data about local people’s health to make sure services are planned based on the best evidence of what local people need and what will work best. 

Integrated datasets are databases of information drawn from health services (provided by the NHS) and social care services (provided by councils). Data on people who use the service (patients or service users) is anonymised and linked together in a secure location. People who plan services and decide how money is spent in the local area can analyse these rich sources of data to plan the best services for that place. 

The National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) is a national funder of health and care research, working closely with the NHS to ensure constant improvements in health and healthcare. It is funded by the UK government through the Department of Health and Social Care. 

The views expressed are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of the NIHR or the Department of Health and Social Care.a slide with logos of the partner institutions involved including BSMS, university of sussex, university of kent and university of surrey

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What does the Unlocking Data project aim to do? 

This project aims to support and develop skills in using data for planning public health services by:

  • Improving data analysis skills in Kent, Sussex and Surrey (KSS) public health teams
  • Solving current problems around linking different sources of data together
  • Understanding how we can involve the public in deciding 
    • how different health and administrative data can be linked and stored safely, 
    • what types of projects should be carried out using data
    • how the public should be informed about datasets and involved in decision making.
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Why does data need to be 'unlocked'?

Local authorities (LAs) in England are responsible for improving the health of their local population. This work is led by public health (PH) teams. 

In Kent, Surrey and Sussex, the LAs want to improve services for communities. They also want to find ways to improve health. They want to do this by joining up (or linking) data from health, social care, housing and education services. Linked datasets have been started, but LAs have some barriers which stop them using the data fully. 

Firstly, PH teams do not have analysts with advanced data analysis skills to answer complex data questions. Secondly, there are difficulties in linking different types of non-health data (housing, education) with health and social care data (social services, GP records). Thirdly, local Integrated Care Systems (ICS), who plan and fund local health and care services and manage datasets, do not currently know how the public feel about their data being linked together and used to improve services and public health.

Better ways of involving the public, that are informed by public views, need to be put in place.

What will we do in the project?  

  • We will bring together data scientists at universities with members of public health teams, database teams, and public representatives. This new group will gather to discuss challenges, barriers and create solutions to using available data in the best way to improve the public’s health.
  • We will train up to four public health analysts to solve problems of local public needs through the use of existing data. They will be trained by university data scientists. The analyst in Kent will focus on the use of different sources of data to understand what things affect the public’s health e.g. the types of environment people live in. The analyst in Sussex will look at using available data to spot earlier opportunities to keep people well and independent for longer.
  • We will hold public discussion groups to find out what people think about the use of health and other data to improve services. This will advise the ICS on how to be clear and trustworthy about data use. It will also suggest ways the public can be included in decision-making around using data.
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Get involved

I’m a member of the public in Kent, Surrey and Sussex and want to take part in the discussion groups around local datasets:

Complete this short form here >


I’m a data stakeholder (working in a local authority, NHS, ICS, university or other interested organisation) and want to join the KSS community of practice around datasets: 

Email us here >


I want to ask the team a question:

Email us here >

Meet the team

Melanie Rees-Roberts smiling head and shoulders photograph

Dr Melanie Rees-Roberts

Kathryn Stanley

Kathryn Stanley

Katie Goddard

Katie Goddard

Our team includes: 

Ms Victoria Spencer-Hughes, East Sussex County Council

Dr Abraham George, Kent County Council

Dr Jo Armes, University of Surrey

Prof Jackie Cassell, Brighton and Sussex Medical School

Prof Anotida Madzvamuse, University of Sussex 

Prof Chris Farmer, University of Kent 

Ms Sarah Giles, Lay co-applicant 

Dr Gurprit Pannu, Sussex Health and Care Partnership

Katherine Church, Surrey Heartlands Health and Care Partnership

Kate Gilchrist, Brighton and Hove City Council

Melanie Dumelow, East Sussex County Council

Jane Lodge, Sussex NHS Commissioners 

Pippa Shaw, ARC KSS  

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Contact us

For any further information about the Unlocking Data project, contact the team via email below.

Email the team here >