DATA COLLECTION Cautious response to DoH bureaucracy pledge

Published: 06/01/2005, Volume II5, No. 5937 Page 6

Trust chief executives have reacted with scepticism to Department of Health pledges to cut the burden of central data collection.

The week before Christmas, the DoH said 61 central data collections would be stopped, or cut in size.

Junior health minister Lord Warner said the move meant that by this April the burden of data collection for NHS organisations would have been cut by a quarter in two years, and halved for trusts that had won foundation status.

The government's promise is the result of a 'data streamlining exercise' conducted by the DoH, Monitor and the Healthcare Commission.

And the DoH also promised that all future requests for information to foundation trusts would have to be submitted to Monitor and the DoH review of central returns.

The announcement came on the same day as the Healthcare Commission announced its plans to reduce the number of indicators requiring special data collections for the 2004-2005 star-ratings, published next summer, from 24 to 10.

But trust chief executives told HSJ they were sceptical that the DoH's pledge would have any impact on the day-to-day running of their organisations.

Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Mental Health Partnership trust chief executive Richard Taylor said: 'I will believe it when I see it.

In a way it seems really good news because they are taking out some very detailed operational reporting requirements. But the general sense has been in the opposite direction.

'The requirements around the whole controls assurance and risk management agendas feel more and more controlling and more and more inspectorial.' University Hospital Birmingham foundation trust chief executive Mark Britnell, who wrote in HSJ about his frustrations with the bureaucracy foundation trusts were experiencing (Analysis, page 17, 19 August), said he 'cautiously' welcomed the move as a 'step in the right direction'. But he warned the DoH not to 'pretend' that the latest pledge would set foundation trusts free.

'They are trying hard to reduce the information burden on foundation trusts, but trying to pretend this will set us free - I think it is too early to say that, ' said Mr Britnell.

'It goes some way to reducing the overall burden from the DoH and Monitor but we are still trying to evaluate the information requirements associated with the Healthcare Commission's consultation document [on the new ratings system]. We have got to reserve judgement until we know the full requirement each of the three bodies place on us.' Director of the NHS Confederation's foundation trust network, Sue Slipman, described the announcement as a 'good start' which 'clears away some of the nonsense information that [foundation trusts] do not need to provide'.

What the DoH says the cuts will mean

Equivalent of 150 people freed up locally for other NHS work.

Estimated£7.6 savings.

A reduction in the frequency of workforce data collection.

Foundation trusts will no longer have to collect local estates data such as records of car parking, telecommunications and laundry services.

Removing duplication of data.

2005 star-ratings: the changes

The number of indicators requiring special data collections for the 200405 balanced scorecard section of the starratings, published next summer, will fall from 24 to 10.

The balanced scorecard indicators for acute trusts will fall from 35 to 32; for ambulance trusts from 19 to 13; mental health trusts will go down from 31 to 23 and primary care trusts will remain the same, with 33 indicators.

Worcestershire Acute Hospitals trust chief executive John Rostill said it was still a bureaucratic system and that changes to the scorecard represented a change in direction and not a reduction in targets.

'I do not believe it cuts the red tape just by saying we have got three targets less. It will still be unfathomable to the public.' But Mr Rostill added that he 'didn't feel it was entirely appropriate to bring in new measures with just over three months to go' until the ratings come out.