Commissioners across England will be able to access general practice information linked with secondary care data from the autumn, NHS England’s chief data officer has told HSJ.

Geraint Lewis said linking the data, which is already done in a handful of areas, is the first step in NHS England’s project, which is designed to eventually link patient data across all care settings.     

Mr Lewis said: “Every GP practice will be providing data by the autumn and commissioners will be able to access it. [However] patients will be to object to their data being extracted.

“We are also expanding the hospital episode statistics (HES) data set so that commissioners can hold of much richer information from secondary care providers.”   

HES will be expanded into a new data set, the “care episode statistics (CES)”, which will incorporate and link data across all care settings as well as providing richer hospital data, he said.

NHS England will consult on what metrics will be included in CES in the coming weeks.

Mr Lewis said commissioners would be able to present NHS England with a “wish list” of metrics.

He added: “HES provides basic procedural, diagnostic and demographic information but, at the moment, commissioners do not have information about - for example - what investigations were done, such as blood tests and x-rays.

“Richer information would allow commissioners to assess if hospitals were following best practice and to ask the question: ‘is there is any unwarranted variation’?”

Following the establishment of linked GP and richer secondary care data, the next phase of setting up will see NHS England try to link data from community and social care services.

Commissioners welcomed the move and the potential for to underpin more intelligent commissioning.

However, senior commissioning sources told HSJ the most pressing concern relating to quality data was the on-going issue surrounding access to patient identifiable information via secondary uses services (SUS) data sets.

HSJ revealed in March that following the restructure, NHS bodies could not transfer patient identifiable information between organisations without breaching confidentiality laws.

Prior to the restructure the system worked because an exemption to confidentiality laws was held by the NHS Information Centre, so it could supply the now defunct primary care trusts with SUS data.

NHS England was granted permission last week to continue the transfer of confidential data from the Health and Social Care Information Centre to commissioning organisations – but only until October when a permanent solution will be sought.