The Department of Health is proposing to stop asking for at least a quarter of the data sets it currently requests from NHS bodies – but has admitted that the cull will make room for new data demands.

The DH has begun consulting on its “Fundamental Review of Data Returns” today. The review, based on a series of workshops held last year following the release of the Equity and Excellence white paper, has examined 305 central data returns.

It proposes scrapping 75 of them, of which 58 are already suspended. The review recommends keeping 188 returns, with the fate of the rest either yet to be decided or requiring further examination.

Returns were assessed against a set of criteria approved by health secretary Andrew Lansley last year. All 30 returns on cancer are recommended to be kept, while only one of 27 clinical audit returns, covering the now-defunct ContactPoint database, is proposed to be scrapped.

However, 19 out of 42 performance returns will be culled, along with five out of 11 mental health data requests, 12 out of 22 covering workforce, and 14 out of 39 on finance.

Among the data sets which the DH says are no longer necessary are reports on swine flu and bird flu immunisation, and workforce data which is already being collected centrally by other means. Others will be scrapped with the abolition of primary care trusts and strategic health authorities.

DH head of regulatory reform Chris Horsey, who is leading the review, said the exercise was “clearing the undergrowth” ahead of the introduction of a new information strategy, expected this winter.

In an exclusive interview with HSJ, Mr Horsey said: “The DH will always need information to ensure patients are safe, and that they get the appropriate and best quality care. In fact the space we’re creating here will no doubt be filled by other data returns because of the changing nature of the department and the focus on public health.

“There’s going to be much more focus on outcomes and more focus on the patient experience. It’s a constantly evolving picture.”

He added that data collection would have to become “more robust” in some areas, highlighting information on patient complaints. It was revealed last week that an increasing number of foundation trusts were opting not to submit complaints data to the DH.

The consultation will last 12 weeks, with a final government response due by the end of the year.

Meanwhile, early work on a second phase of the exercise has already begun. Phase two will examine how the remaining data returns can be streamlined, and will also incorporate more work on public health.