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Linking police and healthcare data has revealed that highly vulnerable individuals are detectable before the involvement of the police. Now a new study by Swansea University researchers says data sharing and linkage could help reduce police callouts and future emergency medical admissions.

This study, published in The Lancet Public Health, and led by the National Centre for Population Health & Wellbeing Research, aimed to demonstrate the feasibility and benefits of linking police and healthcare data.

The 1998 Crime and Disorder Act, which aims to prevent crime, requires police, local government, and the NHS to collaborate on joint crime reduction strategies that include data sharing to inform targeted responses. Data sharing for individuals is practised but rarely is the full potential for sharing of a whole agency dataset and linking to other organisations’ data fully explored.

The research team observed historical data to establish the factors associated with predicting an emergency medical admission following the submission of a public protection referral for the perpetrator of domestic violence.

The study group consisted of 8,709 residents living in South Wales who had a public protection referral between 12/08/2015 and 31/03/2020. Two groups were formed; those victims who experienced an emergency medical admission or death within a year of the public protection referral, and those who did not.

The study utilised the Secure Anonymised Information Linkage (SAIL) Databank, based at the University, which encompasses nationwide electronic health records for primary and secondary care. SAIL also holds administrative and demographic data and mortality records collated by the Office of National Statistics. For this study, data generated by the police to create public protection referral records were brought into SAIL.

As part of the research, the team also used a decision tree analysis to identify factors associated with a risk of future emergency admission of the victim.

Twelve months after the initial public protection referral submission out of the 8,709 participants, 3,544 victims had an admission to the A&E department, with a total number of 48 deaths.

The crucial factors associated with emergency medical admission for the victim within 12 months of the public protection referral included:

  • Attending emergency healthcare services more than 3 times in three years;
  • Aged younger than 19, or older than 70;
  • Being a cigarette smoker, or receiving smoking cessation advice (addiction behaviour);
  • Being injured at the scene;
  • Prescribed central nervous system drugs;
  • Prescribed drugs to treat infections;
  • Pregnancy within the household.

The team found that observing healthcare data from one to three years before the public protection referral established that emergency admissions was the most significant risk factor for those victims who will experience future emergency admissions.

The victims could be split into groups of varying risk; the highest risk group were well known to the emergency healthcare services, the next were less known to the emergency healthcare services, but known to the police, and the final group were unknown to either healthcare or police but known to their GPs.

Dr Tash Kennedy, one of the lead researchers, said: “Linking of police and healthcare data has demonstrated that highly vulnerable individuals are detectable in multiple healthcare datasets before involvement of the police. Our work identifies and lists the crucial risk factors associated with future emergency medical admissions following the first public protection referral callout.

“This research shows that data sharing and linkage could help reduce callouts to the police and future emergency medical admissions.”

Professor Sinead Brophy, lead researcher and director at the National Centre for Population Health, said: “Our study illustrates the potential opportunities available for protective measures when agencies share information. Sharing data can allow for efficient, targeted allocation of resources – both for police by preventing future callouts and for healthcare by preventing visits from injury, reducing the strain on the NHS.

“As a Centre, we look forward to working with the police, healthcare services, and other partners to develop this research and improve data sharing.”

Detective Inspector Ben Rowe, of South Wales Police, added: “This research demonstrates the potential to improve safeguarding for those at risk. We must use the findings to improve the way we work together on data linkage and be innovative with the sharing of information where it is proportionate to protect people from harm.”

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