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Health department must improve “trustworthiness” of seven day service data, Statistics Authority says

BMJ 2016; 355 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.i6211 (Published 21 November 2016) Cite this as: BMJ 2016;355:i6211
  1. Abi Rimmer
  1. BMJ Careers
  1. arimmer{at}bmj.com

The Department of Health for England should improve the “trustworthiness, quality, and value” of the data it produces on seven day services, the UK Statistics Authority has said.

The authority’s director general for regulation, Ed Humpherson, wrote to the health department on 1 November after receiving a query from a member of the public about a speech made by the health secretary, Jeremy Hunt, at the Conservative Party’s conference on 4 October.1

In his speech Hunt said that “just one in 20 hospitals” were meeting a target to have highly vulnerable patients checked by a consultant twice a day. He also said that patients in “just one in 10 hospitals” were being checked by a senior doctor within 14 hours of being admitted.

The member of the public asked the Statistics Authority to look into whether the statistics that Hunt quoted were correct. In response Humpherson wrote a letter to the health department about the issue. Humpherson wrote that, although the authority did not think that the statistics were incorrect, the question had raised an opportunity for the department to improve the way it used data.

“We wanted to bring this to your attention not because of the specific issues in themselves—we have been able to identify the source used by the Secretary of State, as you can see from the attached reply,” Humpherson wrote. “Instead, we wanted to highlight the opportunity for the Department to enhance the trustworthiness, quality and value of the statistics produced in this area.”

He said that the health department should “consider publishing statistics and data relating to NHS Trust standards in ways that comply more fully with the Code of Practice for Official Statistics.”

He said that the health department should pay greater attention to ensuring that it could provide “a description of methods, including the approach to sampling; quality assurance; a balanced description of findings; frankness, in terms of setting out any limitations of the approach; and accessibility,” whenever it used data. The department should also, Humpherson said, make sure that the public could “access the aggregated statistics and underlying data easily.”

Humpherson said that the Statistics Authority was keen to support improvement in health and care statistics in England. “Adopting the principles of the Code [by the health department] would help ensure that users of information, including the Secretary of State, policy makers and the wider public, have access to comprehensive and useful information to support better decisions,” he wrote.

In his letter to the person who had raised the query about Hunt’s speech, Humpherson said that he thought that by complying with the Code of Practice for Official Statistics the department would “enhance the trustworthiness, quality, and public value of these statistics.”

He said, “This is especially important as it is clear that there is continuing public interest in the issue of 7-day services and the standards they must meet.”

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