The biggest stories and debate in the NHS

Data debacle ‘undermines confidence in NHS’

Public confidence in official NHS waiting times data “continues to be undermined” because of lack of action by NHS leaders. So said the government’s statistics watchdog this week. And rightly so.

The UK Statistics Authority said it was “disappointed that A&E data collection guidance, based on agreed principles, has still not been published” following concerns around the accuracy of accident and emergency waiting times statistics raised in January.

The concerns largely centre on how trusts were counting urgent care admissions (some providers have wrongly included data from local urgent care centres they do not run, for example) and how newer clinical pathways, like ambulatory care, are counted.

The issue needs addressing quickly. The longer the saga drags on, the more “it risks feeding a narrative that NHSEngland/Improvement is more interested in ‘creative’ presentation of data than solving the problem of poor emergency flow”, as one reader noted.

Moreover, HSJ has heard widespread reports of confusion at trust level about how type three data is supposed to be counted and, ultimately, that the data on which vital planning is based and funding allocated is simply not reliable.

Addressing the problem is not a simple task. NHS Improvement’s former chief executive Jim Mackey’s attempts to sort it out with a letter in October only muddied the water.

This is why HSJ called for a public consultation and transparent debate on the matter in February.

A consultation would be more time consuming in the short term than sending out another guidance letter – but the importance of the A&E data, and that the NHS is seen to be doing the right thing with it, could solve a lot of problems further down the track.