• UK stats authority makes fresh intervention following concerns raised in HSJ
  • NHS chief said A&E data “contaminated” by same day emergency care patients surge
  • NHSE stats chief, however, says impact of new patient pathways will only have “minimal” impact on A&E data

NHS England’s data chief has told regulators he is “confident” any impact on the accuracy of the system’s accident and emergency data of increasing zero-day admissions would be “very minimal”.

The UK Statistics Authority said it intervened following HSJ’s report last month that national A&E chief Pauline Philip had warned the A&E data had been “contaminated” by an “explosion” in same day emergency care patients. 

The intervention comes only months after it said in November the NHS had addressed previous problems first raised in January 2018, which also concerned the integrity of the A&E and the impact of new patient pathways on its accuracy.

A letter published by the UKSA today said NHSE’s statistics head Mark Svenson had told the watchdog that, despite Ms Philip’s concerns, he was “confident” the statistical impact of the increase in zero-day admissions would be “very minimal”.

The comments appear to suggest the issue around how to code same day emergency care patients will not be a major factor in explaining why A&E performance slumped to a record low in 2018-19.

UKSA director general for regulation Ed Humpherson said in the letter: “Thank you for the opportunity to discuss the concerns raised by the Health Service Journal

“[You have told us] the number of SDEC patients is currently small compared to the volume of patients seen in A&E, and the subset of SDEC patients who first present at A&E is smaller still.

“For these reasons, you are confident that the statistical impact of recording SDEC patients as short A&E admissions is likely to be very minimal. You have provided assurances that appropriate steps are being taken to adapt systems to improve the recording of SDEC patient journeys.”

It warned maintaining “trustworthiness [was] particularly important if there is any perception that measures have been changed in order to mask performance failures”.

Mr Humpherson added: “We recommend you publish details of your work to safeguard the integrity of these statistics, for example via blogs or special articles in the coming months.”

The watchdog’s intervention follows A&E data problems last winter which also surrounded coding issues, although they involved the NHS’ integrity being questioned as well as its counting practices.

Hospitals were accused of including statistics from local walk-in centres, even if they were not run by the hospital or on their site, to improve their overall A&E performance.

An NHSE spokesman said: “Getting people the treatment and care they need quickly, without the need for staying overnight in a hospital is good for patients, trusts and taxpayers and it’s welcome that the UK Statistics Authority has recognised that the NHS is taking all the right, responsible measures to make sure these improvements in care are recorded.”