‘Initial Lessons from the Government’s Response to the COVID-19 Pandemic’ – OMDDAC Submits Evidence to Public Accounts Committee Inquiry

OMDDAC has responded to a call for evidence from the Public Accounts Committee, which is conducting an inquiry to examine the key themes that have emerged from the National Audit Office’s Covid-19 work, including the importance of data and evidence.

OMDDAC’s submission is based primarily on interviews with key stakeholders from a range of sectors, providing the key lessons learned across data-driven public policy, tech-driven approaches to public health, and policing and public safety.

Executive Summary

  • Data quality and interoperability issues between systems have presented significant challenges, particularly when local and national responses intersect. Government investment in public data architecture is therefore urgently required to address data quality issues and improve interoperability across public sector data (including both health and non-health bodies). A data standards framework should also be agreed and implemented across health and non-health bodies, applying standardised labelling and terminology, so that improved standards are maintained.
  • There is a need for greater transparency and proactivity in publishing data, plus additional rationale behind key decisions. Policy decisions should be accompanied by explanatory justifications which identify the additional factors, judgements and underlying assumptions considered as part of the decision and highlight any limitations or uncertainties within the data. In addition, where possible, the data itself (together with its interpretation) should be made publicly available.
  • In the absence of further justification or clarity regarding data sharing arrangements, the decision to permit the sharing of public health data with the police appears neither a necessary nor proportionate response to the pandemic. The Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) underlying the data sharing arrangement between the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) and Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC) should be published as a matter of priority.
  • Ongoing user-centric monitoring and evaluation of data-driven approaches are fundamental to their success. In addition, resource and training should be directed by local and central government to the following two areas to address skills gaps: public sector information governance; and data literacy of policy decision-makers.
  • Overall, a new public conversation is needed regarding the use of data post-pandemic, involving, at the very least, public engagement, but preferably, public consultation to determine the parameters of public acceptability in a number of areas.