Reviewing the landscape of health and policing

Helen Christmas
Public Health Specialty Registrar

Public Health England 

During the spring of 2017, a small group from Lancashire Police, Public Health England and the University of Central Lancashire undertook a ‘landscape review’ to find out about the nature of collaboration between policing and health in England and Wales. The work was carried out to underpin a national consensus agreement which provides a focus for further developing joint working.

We surveyed police forces, police and crime commissioners, regional and national organisations to ask what collaborative work they were involved in and what the blockers and enablers for that work were. Information sharing is a central aspect of inter-agency working, and this blog reflects on what the landscape review told us about it.

We asked respondents what the enablers and blockers to information sharing were. Most people’s responses focussed on sharing of individual patient information, but some also considered anonymised datasets. We summarised the responses as:

Enablers

  • Information sharing protocols;
  • IT systems;
  • Joint vision; and
  • Good relationships.

Blockers

  • Risk aversion and lack of understanding;
  • Lack of national ownership; and 
  • IT systems. 

Interestingly, these lists are very similar to the responses we got when we asked about enablers and blockers to collaborative working in general. This suggests that some of the difficulties with information sharing might be part of a wider cultural struggle to get used to collaborative working itself.

One of the common threads in the case studies people shared with us was that a trigger for starting a collaboration was a recognition that there was a need for a radical change in the way police and health services work together. There is a requirement to appreciate the difference in organisational cultures and priorities before colleagues can reach a position where there is mutual trust.  

Almost universally, police and police and crime commissioner responses talked about the commitment of health staff to patient confidentiality as a barrier. This illustrates the difficult balance that colleagues have to achieve – in any other walk of life patient confidentiality is seen as a really good thing! Some of the responses indicated a lack of appreciation of how uncomfortable this area of practice can feel to a health professional. Conversely, some of the concerns about risk aversion and lack of appreciation of what can legally and ethically be shared show that there is still more to do to help health professionals meet their duty to share data as well as their duty to protect it.

The examples of good practice in the landscape review and in the Centre’s resource show how this can be addressed through a combination of good relationships, shared aims and good systems and governance. Together these create the circumstances where colleagues believe in the benefits of sharing information and also feel professionally supported to do so.

Looking forward, we hope that as more and more case studies and examples are made available that demonstrate the benefit to communities and individuals of shared data, information sharing as part of collaborative working should become a much better understood and much more everyday part of people’s working lives.

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