As the proportion of NHS patients treated by the independent sector continues to rise, the Information Centre for health and social care.is focusing on new ways of improving the quality of.information submitted by private sector health providers, particularly about NHS-funded care.

The Information Centre for health and social care has drawn up plans to improve the data it gets from private sector health providers.

As the proportion of NHS patients treated by the independent sector continues to rise, the centre.is focusing on new ways of boosting the information submitted by private sector health providers, particularly about NHS-funded care.

'Under patient choice, NHS patients can choose where they go for treatment from a range of NHS and independent sector providers,' says Martin Orton, a strategic adviser to the Information Centre.

'However, while they can increasingly base their decisions about NHS care on detailed information about waiting times and patient outcomes, the same cannot be said of private sector care.

'Until recently, care in the independent sector accounted for less than 1 per cent of NHS cases, but that figure is rising towards 10 per cent. In some places, for specialties such as orthopaedics, it is becoming the majority.'

Information strategies

Mr Orton adds: 'For this reason, it is imperative we take immediate steps to improve and expand the data flowing so that commissioners, the Healthcare Commission, the Department of Health and other organisations have a full picture of all healthcare provision across England.'

First steps include giving independent providers greater support and guidance on submitting complete and correct information. New guidance will be added to the centre's.website and information catalogue in early summer and should help those in the.independent sector understand the use and value of data.

Areas being reviewed will include:

  • information requirements to support key organisational objectives (such as.demonstrating quality and efficiency to support increasing market share and needs assessment to support capacity planning)
  • drivers and incentives that can.support submission and use of information
  • issues surrounding.information relating to.NHS-funded care
  • issues surrounding.sharing information on privately funded care.

The Information Centre.also plans to take a more robust approach to gathering, assessing and feeding back on information from private providers to ensure data is complete, on time and of high quality.

Data gathered in the private sector for privately funded care currently uses different coding systems to those used in the NHS. A longer-term project is to explore ways of translating private sector coding systems into ones that are compatible with NHS codes. This would give the centre.and its customers a more complete picture of care, which would be invaluable for many public health, planning and assessment purposes.

'As healthcare provision continues to evolve, it is vital that the data we hold keeps pace,' said Mr Orton.

'For that reason, engaging with the independent sector must be a key priority for us to focus on without delay.'

Martin Orton is a strategic adviser to the Information Centre for health and social care. The centre's information catalogue is a searchable catalogue of current, proposed and past national data collections relating to health and social care. It is available at http://www.icapp.nhs.uk/infocat/index.asp