The Healthcare Commission has slammed the standard of data collection and information-gathering in NHS sexual health services.

There is an 'urgent need' for comprehensive data to target services and track progress, a report by the watchdog has warned. Providers should collect information on age, gender and ethnicity 'as a minimum' if a common data set under development by the Department of Health does not improve services within a year, it said.

Healthcare Commission head of public health Jude Williams said: 'The DoH really needs to keep going on this and keep considering if the information and standards it has set are enough.'

The common data set is to monitor the success of the 10-year national strategy for sexual health, launched in 2002.

Ms Williams said: 'We need to know the progress that has been made on the sexual health strategy. As we are halfway through, it is a good opportunity to report on the progress made and where we have got to.'

Contraceptive services needed stricter monitoring and the Medical Foundation for AIDS and Sexual Health standards the 'main national resource on sexual health guidance' should be mandatory for NHS organisations, she said.

Top priority

'It is vital that everyone involved in sexual health services, from the government through to those providing frontline services, makes improving data collection, and using that data to deliver effective services, a top priority.'

Sexual health was still of 'great concern', the report said, although a complete picture could not be given because of data quality.

'Our ability to monitor more effectively and describe the national picture in more detail, as well as to assess progress in service delivery and sexual health improvement, will depend on further improvements in access to data and information', the report says.

Baroness Gould, chair of the Independent Advisory Group on AIDS and sexual health, said the report was very useful.

She told HSJ the DoH had commissioned and funded the group to carry out a review of the national strategy, as suggested in the commission's report.

Action points: what the NHS should do

  • Government offices and strategic health authorities should use data to performance manage primary care trusts and local strategic partnerships.
  • Providers of sexual health services should collect data in line with nationally agreed guidelines, including the common data set for sexual health and HIV, ensuring age, sex, ethnic monitoring and postcodes are recorded.
  • PCTs should have a greater focus on providing sexual health services and drive improvement with a robust, up-to-date strategy for sexual health and teenage pregnancy.