OSR, your critical friend: working with us for the first time

In March 2020, the NHS Business Service Authority (NHSBSA) contacted us to assess its Prescription Cost Analysis: England statistics. NHSBSA is a new official statistics producer, with a change in ownership of the publication of these statistics prompting this assessment. Earlier this month, we published the Assessment Report on the NHSBSA’s Statistics on Prescription Cost Analysis in England.

It was our first time working with NHSBSA, and for our regulator, Vicky Stone, it was her first time leading an assessment. For this blog, we asked the Lead Official for Statistics at NHSBSA, Michael Cole, what he thought about working with us and asked Vicky for her take on leading an assessment for the first time.

For Michael: Why did you ask OSR to assess the statistics?

Michael: “Volunteering to be assessed by OSR might seem an unnecessary distraction when we’re all so busy, but we did, and I’ll tell you why. Our purpose at the NHS Business Services Authority is to be a catalyst for better health. This means we work in collaboration with our stakeholders, customers, and partners across the health and care system. With the intention to innovate, try new things and explore different ways of working. Publishing effectively is a crucial part of this.

This purpose was also the motivation that saw us start a journey. Moving from being a provider of data for Official Statistics, to a producer of Official Statistics. We recognised that through using our expertise we can better tell the story of the data we hold. It’s the job of my team here at the NHSBSA to produce Official Statistics that serve the public good; a goal that we share with OSR. To aid understanding of the issues of today to support better decision making. Asking OSR to assess us made absolute sense, they’re the organisation that has the statutory obligation to ensure that statistics are produced and disseminated for the public good.”

 For Vicky: What was it like to lead your first assessment?

Vicky: “Initially quite daunting, but also a great opportunity for me to build my confidence and knowledge as a regulator. With the support, help and guidance from a more experienced colleague, it was truly a team effort in assessing these statistics. I really enjoyed making connections with NHSBSA and listening to a wide range of user views as part of our engagement exercise. Speaking with others really helps us to understand where improvements can be made. The main challenge for us as a team was time and resource given the timing of the assessment (April – October during the COVID-19 pandemic).”

For Vicky: What did you learn?

Early engagement with statistic producers is really important – we initially met with NHSBSA at the launch of its publication strategy in July 2019 prior to us starting the assessment. Building those foundations helped us to have open and honest conversations with NHSBSA. That engagement continued throughout the assessment, and the team at NHSBSA were really positive. We had a shared vision – improving the value of the PCA statistics.

For Michael: What would you say to anyone thinking of working with OSR?

Michael: “Working with OSR might be met with initial apprehension. A preconception even, that OSR want to trip Official Statistic producers up, unearth issues, or find fault when there is none. Having been through an assessment I can say this certainly isn’t the case. Expect OSR to be a critical friend. Expect OSR to be supportive. Expect OSR to ask questions. Expect OSR to present valid challenge that is absolutely vital to ensure National Statistic designation is appropriate. After all, National Statistics status tells users statistics comply with the Code and meet the highest standards of trustworthiness, quality and value. We shouldn’t expect anything less.

I’d encourage all producers to work with OSR. I’d emphasise work with. Starting off with the mindset that an assessment by OSR is more than an exercise of providing evidence is key. Approaching an assessment with genuine desire to collaborate is vital. Take the opportunity to innovate and ensure your official statistics contribute to the collective mission and objectives of the statistical system.”


If you’d like to work with us, or if you have any questions about our assessment process, please contact us.