Official statistics relating to health and care in the UK is a complex business – there is much data being collected by different organisations regarding different health conditions for different purposes – not to mention the fact that much of the data is collected separately between the UK’s four devolved countries since 1919.
So any move to make the system more streamlined and efficient when under pressure from government funding cuts is going to present unique challenges. This issue was explained by the speakers in the session titled ‘More from less? Can we maintain and develop the quality and availability of health and care statistics at a time of austerity?’
It seems, however, that there is much agreement between the different organisations involved regarding the ways in which they can move towards this goal, and many common themes emerged on how it could be achieved.
One of these was changing the way that national statistical organisations perceive themselves. Jennet Woolford from the Office for National Statistics talked about the ONS changing its focus from simply producers of statistics, to a service provider that engages more with users.
This was echoed by other speakers, who were keen to point out their efforts to engage more effectively with the people who use the statistics they produce. ‘We don’t want to reduce engagement with the cuts in funding – the opposite in fact, we need to focus on engagement and on outcomes,’ said Chris Roebuck of NHS digital.
Speakers gave examples of how the emphasis is shifting from producing statistics to better presentation of the data that is there. John Morris of the Welsh Government spoke about making data easier to find, helping with adhoc requests from users and scrapping hard copies of statistics that will quickly become out of date. Scott Heald of NHS National Services Scotland said he was now focusing more on helping people use the data rather than just produce them. ‘We are looking to spend less time on data collecting and more time on intelligence and translation of the data so it can be used on the ground,’ he said.
Another key driver for change, added Chris Roebuck, is the IT processing capability and being able to capture richer datasets. ‘This can free up statisticians to do the value-added work rather than number crunching,’ he said.
Scott Heald said that processes are becoming more efficient – while no series have been stopped altogether, he noted that NSS was moving away from PDF reports with Excel tables and focusing more on making data open and releasing data online with interactive dashboards and/or visualisations with supporting videos.
John Morris said that StatsWales, which is open data, was providing more in-depth analyses and using time series to help show monthly statistics in a wider context.
All speakers talked about closer collaboration between producers of health statistics to increase efficiency. John Morris talked of bringing surveys such as the National survey, Welsh Health Survey, Active adults survey and others. Chris Roebuck said that there were plans for collaborating across organisational groups on each topic area.
Scott Heald, said that a new strategy being launched in October was looking at closer collatoration between the three main official statistical producers in Scotaland – ISD, Scottish Government and National Records of Scotland, including joining up to share IT infrastructure, software etc.
Summing up, Richard Laux of the UK Statistics Authority said there is a general acceptance that the health and care stats systems are incredibly complex and that there is now a move towards making the system more coherent.
Jennett Woolford spoke about the health steering group recently set up with reps from the different health statistics producing groups to oversee the development work to ensure that we are joined up and doing it in an efficient way.
Richard Laux said that as resources become tighter it has stimulated people to work in different ways and there have already been economies of scale. It’s not about quality it’s about value,’ he added, ‘and using the resources we’ve got across the statistical system.’