Filling huge gaps in primary care data is vital if commissioning is to become more effective, public health experts have warned.

Speaking at an event to mark the 10th anniversary of the creation of public health observatories last week, public health specialists repeatedly highlighted the dearth of quality data needed by commissioners to make spending decisions.

Yorkshire and Humber PHO public health consultant Rory O’Connor said hospital data was still being used to decide how money was spent when PCT commissioners should be “upstream” and using primary care data.

NHS Cumbria director of public health John Ashton also criticised the lack data sharing between providers and commissioners, suggesting that contracts should require providers to feed back intelligence to commissioners.

Speaking to HSJ after the conference, outgoing chief medical officer Sir Liam Donaldson said he agreed that data sharing should be a contractual requirement.  

He said: “The lack of collection of appropriate data is bad enough, but I think if we’ve got the data and we are unable to use it because people are holding on to it or not sharing it, I think that’s highly unacceptable position.”

Sir Liam added that the government needed to act to improve the amount of data available to PCTs. “The idea that the place which is spending most of the resources is at times a data free zone is completely wrong, so somehow it needs to be a strongly established policy,” he said.

“I’m always told when the electronic record is fully in place it’ll be possible to extract data from it. But whether we can afford to wait till it’s as sophisticated as that, I don’t think so,” he said.