Published: 14/03/2002, Volume II2, No. 5796 Page 5

Failure to maintain data quality could influence trusts' star-ratings in future, amid 'widespread concerns' about whether NHS data is fit for the purposes to which it is being put, the Audit Commission will warn in a report published tomorrow.

Data Remember, seen exclusively by HSJ, highlights information gaps on headline areas of NHS performance. It raises 'serious doubts about the quality of the information on which performance assessments are currently based'. The Audit Commission's 'light-touch' review of non-clinical data quality found that at 18 per cent of trusts 'there were 10 or more areas on which little reliance could be placed' on the data collected. 'In some trusts even the administrative data cannot always be demonstrated to be reliable.'

The report reveals that 56 per cent of trusts did not have satisfactory procedures to record information on two-hour accident and emergency waits, while 55 per cent had no mechanisms to track referral letters passed to consultants. It says 35 per cent failed to reconcile outpatient waiting lists with the patient administrative system and 16 per cent failed to reconcile inpatient lists.

More than 10 per cent of trusts failed to follow correct procedures for suspending patients from waiting lists, with a similar number failing to record properly appoint- ments cancelled by the trust. Data Remember says: 'Most trusts need to improve at least some of their basic processes.' It recommends that trusts take the process of data certification 'as seriously as the process of signing off the annual accounts.'

It says plans are 'under consideration' to integrate the national data accreditation scheme with performance ratings 'so that failure to maintain data quality would influence a trust's star-rating'.

Audit Commission health strategy director Peter Wilkinson said data quality was 'vital for patient care and essential for clinical governance and effective management'. He added: 'The issue needs higher priority.Using information and data well is the prime driver for better quality healthcare.

Nearly every trust can do something to improve their data.'

The data accreditation scheme is now mandatory for trusts, but the Audit Commission found only 45 per cent have completed stage one - for which the deadline was March last year. Just 9 per cent were on target to achieve stage two by this month's deadline.

Inadequate information systems are due 'partly' to a lack of investment, the report says, but its main thrust is directed at raising the priority of data quality issues at trust level. 'One group within the trust that needs to use - and be seen to use - the available information is the trust board, ' it says.

'Real improvement is dependent. . on trusts improving their own processes for data quality.'

Mr Wilkinson stressed that the findings were not about 'fiddling' figures, but about problems ensuring the accuracy of information. He hoped the report and trust-by-trust feedback would help to improve NHS data quality.

'We have tried to write this in a constructive manner, ' he said.

Data Remember: improving the quality of patient-based information in the NHS . Audit Commission publications.

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