The chief executive of the Information Centre has promised to 'put right' the perception that Dr Foster has Intelligence unfair access to NHS data.

Speaking at an HSJ conference last week, Tim Straughan admitted NHS organisations needed better information for benchmarking their performance.

"We need really clear nationally agreed standards and definitions," he said. "It's your data and you should have it in a basic form free of charge."

He said he agreed that organisations should not have to pay external companies such as Dr Foster for data, and that the private sector should be used only where organisations wanted the data to be analysed in a particular way.

"You should not have to pay for it just to get it at all," he said. "In terms of the view that Dr Foster has everything and has access over everybody else, that's absolutely a strong perception and that's absolutely what I'm trying to make sure does not happen."

He pledged to focus the Information Centre on getting comparative information "out onto the streets".

In a statement to HSJ after the conference, Mr Straughan said that Dr Foster Intelligence "does not re-sell raw NHS data". He said the Information Centre and Connecting for Health were investigating ways of making access to data simpler.

"Dr Foster Intelligence has no privileged access to data. Nor does the Information Centre. Data is currently available to anybody who applies for Patient Information Advisory Group permission. The current system is fair and equal. It is just very demanding and was never intended to be contractual."

A spokesman for Dr Foster said: "We fully support the Information Centre's efforts to improve access to data to the NHS either directly or through the value-added knowledge management systems and services that we have sold to three quarters of English hospitals and more than half of primary care trusts.

"We have seen a number of new market entrants and existing players compete ferociously for this business. We welcome this competition as it improves the quality and ingenuity of the services we supply."

Mr Straughan also told the conference the sector needed to make more use of data before it has been "cleaned". He said partly cleaned information could still be a useful indicator of trends.