The UK government's Autumn Statement includes "world-leading commitments" to boost growth in the nation's life sciences sector by transforming access to public-sector health and care data.
From next September, services provided by the NHS Information Centre for Health and Social Care will link datasets from primary and secondary care, which will enable professionals in the NHS, pharmaceutical industry, academia and elsewhere to access unprecedented and unequalled levels of information about the journeys of patients through the care system and the outcomes of different treatments, it says.
Provision of these "world-first" linked data services will improve medical practice and is also expected to put the UK "in a prime positive for research investment," according to the Cabinet Office.
In addition, from this month patients will be able to see new data on GP performance on the NHS Choices website. Further data on GP prescribing will be published, which can be used by data providers to offer information to patients, supporting them as they make decisions about their own care, says the Department of Health.
The UK "is uniquely placed as being one of the few countries to have a universal 'cradle to grave' health system, boasting some of the most detailed, anonymised information on patients. The UK has the potential to lead the world as a location for data-enabled health research, with direct benefit to patients, via the Clinical Practice Research Datalink [CPRD)," says the Department.
The CPRD is a complementary new secure data service, to be established within the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), to service the specialised needs of the research and life science communities.
Commenting on the open data policy, Health Secretary Andrew Lansley said: "patients will benefit directly from our efforts to make health data transparent and easy to use by the medical research community. This will fuel advances in treatment, as well as positioning this country as a centre of excellence for research."
"We will also encourage information providers to use this data we open up to the public, so they can offer patients insights into the quality of care on offer and drive improvements in the quality of science," he added.
The Autumn Statement given by Chancellor George Osborne to Parliament outlined other support which the government will offer to both large and small innovative companies.
To encourage "many more of our small firms to export overseas for the first time," the government will double to 50,000 the number of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) which it helps. It will also extend support "to British mid-caps who can sometimes lack the overseas ambitions of their German equivalents [and] provide funds for smaller technology firms in Britain who find it difficult to turn their innovations into commercial success," the Chancellor told MPs.
Moreover: "we have listened to the ideas from business groups about encouraging innovation in larger companies, and we will introduce a new ‘above the line’ research and development [R&D] tax credit in 2013 that will increase its visibility and generosity," he said, adding: "we’re publishing next week rules on the taxation of foreign profits, so that multinationals stop leaving Britain and instead start coming here."
Responding to the Chancellor’s comments, Stephen Whitehead, chief executive of the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI), welcomed the government's continued support for the life sciences sector.
"Specifically, extending R&D tax credits to larger firms will encourage pharmaceutical companies to further invest in their own business and in new medicines. A range of tax measures such as low-interest loans to SMEs and confirming the rate of corporation tax is to be lowered will improve the general business environment in which our members operate," said Mr Whitehead, adding: "we are expecting a range of further measures to support the life sciences sector to be announced shortly."