The 2008-09 NHS operating framework is clearly a catalyst for improving healthcare provision through better data collection and use.

The framework underlines the need for high-quality information to support all NHS business operations and says that by April 2009 the NHS should be using the secondary uses service as the standard repository for performance monitoring, reconciliation and payment.

As senior responsible officer for the secondary uses service, I am aware of the increasingly pivotal role national and local benchmarking information has in supporting these areas of work and care. NHS Comparators, which emerged from SUS last year, provides comparative data, enabling commissioners and providers to investigate aspects of local activity, costs and outcomes.

The vision is for an NHS that promotes well-being, prevents ill-health and provides high-quality, safe and convenient services to everyone who needs them. This includes the attainment of a number of "vital signs", which have been identified nationally. Primary care trusts will work on these next year to ensure the best possible outcomes are delivered locally.

Information deficit

Historically, the NHS has been seen as data rich but information poor, failing to make best use of the vast amounts of data it collects. The operating framework recognises the need to improve the timeliness of data submissions, but the quality of submissions also needs to improve. This is the responsibility of the organisations and people who provide the data.

SUS has the potential to support better management in the NHS, but ultimately the value of its services depends on the accuracy and timeliness of data submitted by providers.

Locally, commissioners need to make sure they stipulate in contracts with providers the necessity to provide high-quality, timely data. They also need to work with suppliers to make sure local systems accept the extracts from SUS needed to drive payment processes.

Much needs to be done to improve the quality of data collected by providers of NHS care. For example, during the second quarter of 2007-08, only 45 per cent of providers with accident and emergency services fulfilled their responsibility to submit data on A&E attendances to SUS.

Regular stats

To support the achievement of the 18-week referral-to-treatment target and payment by results, commissioners need providers to submit commissioning data sets to SUS on a monthly basis.

Regular monthly submissions will also support the construction of consistent indicators and comparators for NHS Choices, NHS Comparators, the Audit Commission's PbR assurance, and the Public Health Compendium, including Programme Budgeting and Better Care Better Values.

Nationally, providers need more guidance. SUS will issue guidance on implementing new commissioning datasets and minimising the risk of data duplications and rejections of data submissions. It will also develop additional data quality reporting, making providers aware of any data quality problems and how to address them.

For the move towards world class commissioning to be successful, the NHS needs access to the right information at the right time as never before - plus the skills and capacity to make the best use of it.