The Department of Health has launched a consultation on the “fundamental review of data returns” that was promised in the ‘Liberating the NHS’ white paper.
The consultation follows an extensive programme of work to discover what data returns are actually demanded by the DH and its arms length bodies, and which of these returns should be retained, scrapped, or subjected to further work.
The review identified 305 returns, with 197 made to the DH and 108 to its ALBs. The consultation says a quarter – or 58 - of these have been suspended with a view to their being scrapped at the end of the 12-week consultation process, which runs until 22 November.
A rapid analysis suggests that these returns are related to the take-up of previous government initiatives or policies; to targets set by previous governments; or to the performance monitoring of NHS organisations scheduled for abolition.
For example, they include returns on the use of the ContactPoint children’s database, which has itself been discontinued, and on use of the WHO surgical check-list that was recommended by former health minister Lord Ara Darzi as a safety measure.
In the primary care sector, they include a raft of returns on participation in GP fundholding, Primary Medical Services, Practice-based Commissioning and similar initiatives.
In the acute sector, they include returns on compliance with the 18 weeks’ referral to treatment time and the four hour A&E waiting time target – both of which were scrapped by the present government.
Other returns up for abolition include the entire ‘vital signs’ package drawn up by the DH to support the NHS Operating Framework, and financial and staff returns made by strategic health authorities and primary care trusts – which are due to be discontinued in 2013.
The consultation document says the returns were assessed against a number of criteria, including whether they are focused on outcomes, can provide comparable information to support patient choice or accountability for public money, and are “generated as part of the care giving process.”
This seems to have caught a number of data returns to monitor the spread of disease, including infectious syphilis. It also means that more returns are likely to be discontinued in the future, if they can be generated in other ways.
For example, the consultation says more work will be done on a number of mental health and HR returns, to see if they can be generated from the patient-level mental health minimum dataset and information held in the NHS Electronic Staff Record.
The 'Information Revolution' consultation on a new NHS information strategy argued that, eventually, information should be recorded once, as close to a patient receiving care as possible, and then re-used many times.
The consultation also envisaged the NHS Information Centre becoming the "focal point" for national data collections.
In the meantime, the DH has announced that a second phase of fundamental review work will be undertaken to identify data returns demanded by other bodies, look into the detail of the returns that are to be retained, and examine collection methodologies.
The DH claims the 58 returns that have been suspended will save the NHS about £10m a year if they are discontinued.
Tim Straughan, the chief executive of the NHS Information Centre said: "The purpose of this review is to make sure we collect data that can make a real impact in helping to improve care while stopping data returns that are no longer needed and only continue for historical reasons.
"In reaching our recommendations, we looked at more than 300 data returns, covering 12 distinct themes and involving contributions from over 200 people.
"We believe the result of review will free local NHS staff from unnecessary administrative burdens while at the same time supporting patient choice and better decision-making within the NHS.”
Professor David Haslam, former president of the Royal College of GPs and chair of the National Quality Board, Quality Information Committee, said it fully supported the review.
“Following this review we expressed a need to identify any cost effective alternative solutions that will meet the requirements currently satisfied by existing returns and to highlight any unresolved issues and remaining challenges through consultation. I am very pleased to see this work going forward and wholeheartedly endorse it.”
Tim Straughan will be one of the speakers at the EHI Live 2011 conference and exhibition at the NEC in Birmingham on 7-8 November, registration for which is now open.
© 2011 EHealth Media.
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