Millions of hospital data errors 'threaten GP commissioning'

Hospitals in England are consistently failing to supply correct patient data to the wider NHS, which may undermine GP commissioning, according to a landmark report.

The NHS Information Centre (NHSIC) heavily criticised NHS trusts in England for the ‘poor quality’ of national data in health and social care. It also uncovered problems with certain local authorities.

Its report, the first of its kind, found that up to a fifth of data returns by some hospitals and councils contained errors in patient records.

The NHSIC said poor quality data can undermine efforts to plan commissioning and judge the performance of services.

It suggested the current NHS reforms had undermined data quality in the NHS, citing the ‘reorganisation and reconfiguration of services’ as a factor leading to poor data returns.

The centre reminded GP practices and hospitals that it is their duty to provide good quality data.

The Quality of Nationally Submitted Health and Social Care Data for England report examined the quality of a wide variety of datasets from across the NHS and social care.

Some hospitals made errors in up to 20% of returns when claiming fees under payment by results. On average, hospital trusts made errors in 7% of all data submissions, likely affecting millions of patients’ data.

Hospitals failed to record valid NHS numbers for 7% of patients admitted to A&E and one in 50 inpatients and outpatients.

NHSIC was forced to correct 5,000 patient records that had been accidentally duplicated by hospital trusts.

GP practices also submitted data of ‘variable quality’ when recording disease diagnosis.

Although overall data quality was high for adult social care, some councils performed poorly. Seven local authorities handed over returns with 15-20% of required data missing, while two had failed to fill in more than 20%.

The NHSIC found significant data concerns in the National Child Measurement Programme. Almost one in five (19%) height and weight measurements were found to have been rounded up to the nearest whole number. One in six (17%) children had no ethnicity code recorded. The NHSIC said this ‘may hinder use of the information both locally and nationally’.

'National action required'
NHSIC found a lack of standards and guidance around data returns, as well as poor training and a failure to recognise the impact of poor quality data.

The centre urged GP commissioners, practices, hospitals and councils to review the findings and improve data quality, adding that ‘local and national action is required’ to create a ‘more consistent and coherent approach’.

NHSIC chief executive Tim Straughan said: ‘High quality information is essential for effective planning and commissioning and we want to see providers across the NHS give their fullest attention to ensuring accurate and comprehensive medical and managerial data.

‘We see these initial findings as a starting point from which we will track improvements in data quality year on year. Each trust has its own summary data quality report which will help them focus on any areas that they need to prioritise.’

Health minister Lord Howe said: 'Access to good quality information is essential for NHS organisations to plan and improve services for patients and to drive up standards.

He said the report was the 'first step' in providing a more comprehensive picture of the quality of information being shared across health and social care. 'We are shifting power to local healthcare organisations, doctors, nurses and other health professionals and it is essential that the data and information they collect is recorded accurately to help drive up standards for patients.'

He added: 'These findings will help NHS providers improve their quality of data by allowing them to compare results and identify where to make improvements in how they capture and share information.'

In November 2010, the National Audit Office found data collection on cancer – in particular the stage of cancer with which the patient presented – was so poor many PCTs had little idea whether their commissioning benefited patients or offered value for money.

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