Features: November 24th, 2006


By Blythe Robertson

The Scottish Executive’s Data Sharing and Standards Division is working to provide better and more joined up care, advice and assistance to the people of Scotland through the use of computers and communication technology.  Within a framework of consent, secure information sharing between appropriate professionals, such as doctors, nurses, social workers and teachers, is now a reality.

Data sharing is a key element of joint working at levels of national policy and local practice implementation. For example, the ability to exchange information for adult client groups for Single Shared Assessment and related processes is enhanced by shared processes and electronic mechanisms. This results in better outcomes for citizens. Similarly, work within the field of Children’s Services requires effective data sharing in order to achieve Scottish Ministers’ policy priorities outlined in Getting it Right for Every Child, Protecting Children and Young People: Framework for Standards and the Additional Support for Learning (Scotland) Act 2004.

The Division has built upon the work of the Modernising Government Fund eCare Programme and Social Care Data Standards Project, which worked collaboratively with other departments within the Scottish Executive and local partnerships to enhance data recording and sharing.

The outcomes of the Modernising Government Fund projects included a suite of electronic products, tools and standards based upon a national framework which enabled the sharing of data about citizens via a locally hosted Multi-Agency Store (MAS).

Putting in the structure for data sharing

The ability to share consented information has been demonstrated by local partnerships to benefit clients, practitioners and organisations. Information is recorded without duplication, involved practitioners are able to share and contribute to assessment and care planning/implementation activity, and organisations can utilise the potential of electronic information recording to gather data to support community planning.

However, the realities of sharing assessment processes, models and data presents organisational development challenges which must be identified and addressed for data sharing to be effective and efficient. Implementation of national policy directives with reference to electronic data sharing are recognised and acknowledged by the Division, which is working collaboratively with local partnerships to support the change management process.

Fourteen local data sharing partnerships have been established to manage the local implementation of personal data sharing. These are based around the Scottish health board geographies and include representation from NHS, local authority, police and other agencies as appropriate. A National Data Sharing Forum has also been established to provide overall governance of local and national activity. At the first meeting of this on 18 April 2006, Tom McCabe, the Minister for Finance and Public Service Reform, emphasised the mainstream importance of the work.

Launch of eCare Framework

A key delivery component for this work is the eCare Framework, which was launched in May 2006.

The eCare Framework is the name given to a cohesive set of technology standards, architectures, infrastructure and software that enables multi-agency information sharing within the public sector in Scotland.

The Framework provides public sector agencies, and their technology partners, with a single strategic approach to secure electronic data sharing in Scotland.

The release of the Framework provides the capability to address the technical barriers and costs to data sharing by agreeing a standard technical architecture.   The framework allows for multi-agency data exchanges through a fully supported technical implementation and shared service.

The key components of the eCare Framework include a set of agreed technical standards and architectures. These include strategic technical approaches for citizen identification and citizen identity management, citizen consent and legal disclosure for data sharing in a multi-agency environment.

Based on a federated data model, individual data sharing partnerships manage and extend their own common data holdings.

Also included as part of the eCare Framework are matching tools to enable partnerships to manage the reliable and robust identification of citizens between agencies and a tool that can be embedded within local systems to enable practitioners to viewing the data disclosed to the multi-agency environment.

Moving to central data stores

It has been agreed that sites which have not started implementing a locally hosted multi-agency store will move to a solution whereby the eCare Framework products will be centrally managed. The first central stores started operating in July 2006. Other projects will migrate to this centrally managed service as their locally hosted servers come up for renewal, which will be within the next 1-4 years.

This approach does not mean that one single central database is created; the federated model that has been consistently adopted by the eCare Framework is retained.

Provision of services from a central data centre offers a number of potential advantages in terms of economy and quality of service provision, support, planning and development. Being located in the data centre means that a system is part of an enterprise-class physical, data and system security environment. Having fewer system components, with consolidated processing and storage requirements, means that the same level of service can be provided and supported more economically, and makes contingency planning and management of future development and growth easier. Centralisation of the system’s processing and data also makes it possible to develop business processes that would be impractical in an environment of locally-stored data.

This co-location of servers has an additional potential benefit, in terms of system audit and the collection of performance indicator data, which is currently being explored.

This managed service solution will be funded centrally, with no initial or ongoing costs falling to local data sharing partnerships.

Common view of the citizen

To support effective, legal data sharing, information that is being shared needs to carry the same meaning across the wide range of different practitioners that may be involved. The information content of the eCare Framework was specified and defined through the development of Data Standards, which provide the linkage between the information requirements of policy, local practitioner needs and the technical components of the framework.

Development was carried out in a consultative, collaborative manner, with ownership of specific sets of standards by appropriate policy and practitioner groups to ensure maximum operational buy-in and optimum re-use of existing standards work in partner agencies.

This development approach, with its separation of data and technical standards, provides the flexibility and responsiveness that allows the same core eCare Framework to support an increasingly wide range of national policy requirements.

Crucially, a set of generic core data standards which was developed jointly with NHS Scotland to ensure future interoperability with health systems, provides an agreed common view of the citizen that is applicable across all agencies that may need to share personal data.

Having established this common view, the more specific information requirements of, for instance, Single Shared Assessment or integrated children’s services, can be defined, then built on the core.

Evaluationof the framework

An independent evaluation of the eCare Framework, conducted by ACS (UK) Ltd, found:

“This  review has confirmed that the Framework has been written to a high standard.  The code conforms with previous versions of the Framework and has been produced to a high level of quality, following clear coding standards to provide a consistent well structured and easy to read style.

The code is complemented by the publication of Web Service Design specifications, which provide a valuable overview of each web service as well as a more detailed design.  These documents are, like the code, written in an easy to read and consistent style, providing a solid foundation for development and testing.

The high level security review indicates that security has been designed up front and the Framework conforms to many of Microsoft’s security best practices, particularly with regards to securing Web Services.

Finally, the examination of the unit test documentation and results gives a good level of confidence of test coverage, and in fact 390 individual test cases is an impressive effort.”

The eCare Framework and the Managed Service Model form an efficient and effective business solution to the challenge of sharing personal data in a disciplined, accountable way, and this enables front-line staff to deliver improved services.

For further details, please contact Blythe Robertson, on 0131 244 2624, or at efficientgovernmentteam@scotland.gsi.gov.uk. Our website also includes a range of information on our work: www.scotland.gov.uk/dss