Demands and expectations on the social care system in England have changed significantly over the last decade. Our population has grown dramatically and its composition has evolved greatly in terms of age and ethnicity. In deciding how best to address these needs, providers need to consider how to offer a greater level of personalised care, an approach advised by the Department of Health's social care strategy.

For providers to identify and address such needs efficiently, their decisions must be underpinned by relevant, timely information at a local and national level. Without this, it will be impossible to pinpoint areas of service provision that differ markedly from other areas, explore the reasons why, and resolve problems effectively.

To support this process, the NHS Information Centre has reviewed its existing social care data collections through a national consultation. The importance of this exercise was further underlined when a new national indicator set was issued by the Department for Communities and Local Government.

Due to come into effect from 2008-09, the set will contain 198 indicators, eight of which relate directly to social care, with others addressing the wider health and well-being agenda.

Internal review

The Information Centre began its review in November 2007 with an internal line-by-line analysis of its 12 main collections and publications.

The analysis identified data items that may be used for the indicator set, items that may no longer be needed centrally and items that may be useful for the wider social care and well-being agenda.

In January and February 2008, the review was made subject to a national consultation in the social care family.

It is proposed that elements of certain collections, such as the referrals, assessments and packages of care return and the grant-funded services return, are retained, as they are required for the new indicator set.

Other collections, such as those related to supported residents and personal social services expenditure, are not required for the new set but hold valuable information, and will therefore be reviewed.

It is recommended that the register of people who are blind or partially sighted and the register of deaf and hard of hearing people collections cease in entirety due to issues with data quality and relevance. However, further consultation is needed before a final decision is made.

Data burden

The objective of the changes is to reduce the burden of collection placed on councils with social services responsibilities as much as possible while retaining information that is of use and relevance at a local and national level.

The Information Centre is also exploring how to make information more accessible and timely and how information can be further analysed and interpreted to the benefit of social care commissioners and providers.

A new National Adult Social Care Intelligence Service is being developed to collect and provide, on a voluntary basis, key intelligence and knowledge for all involved in adult social care policy and practice. It will also be the vehicle through which the mandatory national indicator set information will be collected.