Poor health data risk undermining NHS improvement

Fragmented collection and release of health data risks undermining efforts to improve NHS services, the head of UK government statistics has warned the DH.

Andrew Dilnot: poor data risk undermining NHS reform
Andrew Dilnot: poor data risk undermining NHS reform

The chairman of the UK Statistics Authority, which is responsible for safeguarding the publication of official statistics, has written to health secretary Jeremy Hunt about the issue.

In his letter, Andrew Dilnot warned that poor coordination of data collection and release results in ‘substantial obstacles facing the would-be user of health statistics’. 'We believe that there is a strong case for some specific but important changes in the way that health statistics are compiled and presented,’ he said.

Dr Dilnot argued that, unless problems with official health statistics were addressed, it may be difficult for the current reforms to improve services.

‘The NHS in England is in the midst of major organisational change, and there is an argument that this should be allowed to settle down before looking at statistical matters,’ he said. ‘But we see a real risk that, if the broader statistical issues are not addressed at this point, then it may be more difficult to make improvements subsequently.’

Dr Dilnot warned of the problems resulting from the ‘fragmented nature’ of official statistics on health. At present, there are 22 UK organisations recognised as producers of official statistics relating to health, and a further 21 public bodies that publish statistics relevant to health, he said.

‘There are over 200 separate National Statistical releases about health produced in the UK each year and hundreds more that are not released under the National Statistics banner – rather more than one release of statistics each working day,’ he added.

Dr Dilnot said this fragmentation of statistics made it difficult to compare statistics across the four UK administrations. ‘In the absence of an overarching UK Health Survey, or a repository of all health statistics, there are major obstacles to obtaining a good statistical picture of people’s health, at either UK level or for the individual countries on a consistent basis.’

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