Published: 01/04/2004, Volume II4, No. 5899 Page 7

Over 20 per cent of acute trusts are failing to produce high quality data according to an Audit Commission report published this week.

The commission investigated 49 acute trusts and six mental health trusts, selected at random, and awarded them 'star-ratings' for data quality. Twelve of the acute trusts were awarded one star, and the three-year study found that 10 of the 12 performed especially poorly in the quality of their central returns.

The spot-check ratings, which included feedback from local Audit Commission audits, also looked at data tests across 13 different areas, including the recording of outpatient and inpatient waiting times and cancer referrals.

The report found that although the issue of data quality is, 'in general, tending to be given greater priority in trusts at a corporate level, this is not always translated into improved data entry and operational practice on the ground'.

It raised particular concerns about the data quality and collection in mental health trusts, and called for 'a concerted drive at every stage to raise the level of priority given to information and data quality' in mental health trusts. This will depend on all staff 'recognising the importance of good information in providing health-quality care'.

Audit Commission health directorate associate director Jon Billings, who wrote the report, said that although the issue of data quality was now on the agenda of most trust boards, there was still a big variation in the importance it was given across different sectors of the NHS.

'Although the NHS as a whole takes the issue seriously, it is falling down on the day-to-day implementation of data quality, ' he said.

The report says it is important to make the checking of data quality part of routine management in trusts rather than a 'periodic, oneoff process'. It calls for agencies across the NHS and the Department of Health to provide a more co-ordinated approach to inspection and implementation of data quality.

The report also warns trusts and the DoH of the need to ensure that planned investment in information systems is harnessed to increase the collection of data, as well as calling on trusts to encourage greater clinician engagement in data quality.

It recommends that the Healthcare Commission - which launches today - 'uses its role as lead regulator in health to promote a more strategic co-ordinated approach to information and data quality, including rationalising regulation'.

A Healthcare Commission spokesperson said: 'It is imperative that underlying data in the NHS is sound... the Healthcare Commission will continue the work of the Audit Commission in helping to drive the importance in quality of data across the NHS and in the private health sector.'