Review of statistics on COVID-19 vaccinations published by NHS England
In January 2021, I wrote to statistics producers in all administrations of the UK, commending the speed of work on obtaining initial vaccination statistics and asking for more detailed data.
There is significant public interest in data on the vaccination programme and I welcome the improvements made since my previous letter. We have now performed a review of the statistics on COVID-19 vaccinations published by NHS England and Improvement (NHS E&I). This letter notes our findings and outlines our recommendations for further improvement. More-detailed findings and recommendations are included in the annex to this letter.
There has clearly been a huge amount of work to generate the range of statistics that are now being published on a weekly and monthly basis. I welcome the collaboration between different bodies which has made this possible. Publication of these data help the public to understand progress with the vaccination programme and hold government to account.
It is good to see data published at a more granular level, for example down to Middle Layer Super Output Area (MSOA). Data are now available for all nine Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) priority groups, albeit at varying levels of geographic breakdown. More of the published tables now include the percentage uptake figures alongside vaccinations. This makes it much easier to see the different take up rates for different groups.
While we acknowledge the immense pressure teams are under to produce these volumes of data in a timely manner, there are several areas where we would like to see improvements in the presentation and explanation of data to support its use – for example, by enhancing the commentary and metadata that accompany the statistics, improving coherence with other data sources and ensuring that the data remain accessible and easy to use.
A broader overview of vaccinations, including different socio-economic groups
Whether in the NHS E&I publication or elsewhere, it would now be helpful to see more on socio-economic characteristics, such as more granular data on ethnicity or data by deprivation. The Office for National Statistics publication on vaccination rates by socio-demographic characteristics provides helpful insight into these issues, but this is not a regular release. It would also be helpful to see more information on age categories below 50 to understand how many vaccines have been delivered in the lower age bands.
We recognise that the focus of the NHS E&I statistics is the effectiveness of the operational delivery of the vaccination programme. More broadly it will be important to answer other questions that users have, for example the effectiveness of the vaccines, the number of vaccinations declined, and appointments not attended.
Producers of health statistics in England should continue to work together to make sure the existing operational data are complemented by a broader range of information. I have copied this letter to Lucy Vickers, Head of Profession for Statistics, Department of Health and Social Care; Clare Griffiths, Head of Profession for Statistics, Public Health England; and Iain Bell, Deputy National Statistician and Director General for Population and Public Policy, Office for National Statistics.
I am grateful for the work you are doing to provide these important statistics and your consideration of the areas highlighted in this letter. My Health and Social Care team will continue to liaise with you and please do not hesitate to get in touch with me if you would like to discuss any aspects of this letter further.
Director General for Regulation
Annex: OSR review findings and recommendations – statistics on COVID-19 vaccinations published by NHS England (Word document)