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The smart use of data intelligence will be one of the ways that Public Health Scotland plans to lead by example. Health data will be translated into new, meaningful and easily understood ways, so that communities and audiences across the country can both use and share it to transform the ways we tackle public health issues. Scott Heald, Associate Director at Public Health & Intelligence, NHS National Services Scotland shares his insights into what needs to be done to get it right…

Scotland has some of the best health service data in the world. In fact, few countries have information which combines high quality data, consistency, coverage (national and local) and the ability to link the data to allow person based analysis and follow up.

However, as the 2015 Review of Public Health in Scotland indicated, work needs to be done with how we use the data we have so we can realise its value. As John Pullinger, the UK National Statistician notes: “We are not doing our jobs properly if we are not challenging what we do.”

Data and Intelligence will be a huge part of the new public body going forward. We are already looking at how we can make best use of the data assets we already have access to, and are looking at mechanisms to gather new data. Importantly, we need to continue our work to transform data into intelligence and knowledge that enables positive health actions across populations and regions.


Translating the insights we gather, into understandable intelligence that allows all stakeholders to realise benefits, is one of our major ambitions for the future.

Therefore, a key element will be how Public Health Scotland provides relevant and engaging content so that stakeholders will not only be interested enough to come back, but will also get information that makes a difference in a real world setting; for example, helping local partners to actually make better decisions for their populations based on evidence that is engaging and tailored appropriately.

The goal must be to improve the translation of data into something tangible that can be easily understood and to leave no-one outside the information cycle. Users should understand how data fits together, but also be able to compare data – and any inherent lessons learned – with data produced across different areas of the country.

Experience from working in Public Health & Intelligence, which will form a significant part of Public Health Scotland, is continuing the investment in staff development to ensure we have the skills and experience to deliver the transformation required. Work is already being done with the universities and organisations across the UK such as The Alan Turing Institute, the University of Edinburgh, the University of Glasgow, Health Data Research UK, to name a few, to explore how we can make best use of our data to have maximum impact “on the ground”.

Public Health Scotland will be an important contributor to these essential partnerships. The new body must aim to engage in new ways so we benefit as much from their expertise as they do ours.

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