Assessment Report: Statistics on General Pharmaceutical Services in England

22 July 2021
Last updated:
22 July 2021

Executive Summary

Judgement on National Statistics Status

NHS Business Services Authority (NHSBSA), an arm’s length body of the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC), is responsible for providing services to NHS organisations, NHS contractors and to patients and the public. These services include the processing and management of prescription items dispensed by community pharmacies in England. NHSBSA is a new official statistics producer that was included in The Official Statistics Order 2018.

NHSBSA published a suite of information titled General Pharmaceutical Services in England in November 2020 as National Statistics (referred to as GPhS in this report). The responsibility for publication of these statistics was transferred from NHS Digital following a public consultation, as part of wider plans to migrate a number of primary care medicines datasets to NHSBSA. NHS Digital and its predecessor bodies had published these statistics annually since 2005. This change of responsibility prompted a request for a series of assessments by the NHSBSA statistics team and demonstrates its commitment to complying with the Code of Practice for Statistics in producing official statistics. NHSBSA’s statistics on Prescription Costs Analysis in England were assessed in 2020, marking the start of NHSBSA’s transition to an official statistics producer. The GPhS statistics are the second set of NHSBSA’s statistics to be assessed.

These statistics are important because they enable users to answer a number of key questions related to community pharmacies and appliance contractors in England, and the activities that these carry out. Key users of the statistics include ministers and officials in government departments, policy advisors, commissioners, business analysts, and data analysis and business intelligence specialists.

We have identified four requirements for NHSBSA to address in order to ensure the high standards of public value, quality and trustworthiness associated with National Statistics designation are met. These are described in chapters one to three of this report. Once NHSBSA has demonstrated that the improvements covered by these requirements have been made, OSR will recommend to the UK Statistics Authority that National Statistics status for these statistics be confirmed. It would also be helpful for the NHSBSA statistics team to publish an action plan outlining the steps that it will take to address the requirements.

Key findings

Public Value

NHSBSA has proactively sought to engage with users of the GPhS statistics since taking over responsibility for their publication. NHSBSA outlines several activities in its user engagement strategy that it carries out to continue to identify existing and potential users of the statistics. This proactive approach to user engagement means that NHSBSA now has a small collection of known users that it can engage actively with. Users that we spoke found the statistics relevant to their needs.

The key findings are clearly stated at the start of the bulletin, and the main report is simple and clearly laid out. Currently the commentary is limited to descriptions of changes over time, and there are limited explanations to help users in interpreting some of the figures. For the forthcoming publication, NHSBSA is planning to report all activity carried out by contractors linked to England’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. To provide additional insight for users, we encourage NHSBSA to include more context on the pharmacy landscape in England, and information within the text to explain more technical charts.

Users felt that Table 1 in the supporting summary tables was too long and contained too many different types of information. This table presents a wide range of information relating to pharmacy and appliance contractor activity. To address this, NHSBSA should review the content and presentation of the supporting summary tables and improve them to make them more user friendly and easier to extract data from.


NHSBSA has improved some of the methods since taking the statistics over from NHS Digital. It has explained these changes and the rationale for them clearly in the background information and methodology note. However, some users told us they do not access this. To provide clarity on the changes for these users, NHSBSA should provide a brief explanation of them in the main report, with links to the background information and methodology note for those users who require more-detailed information.

The statistics are based on data extracted from administrative or management systems, with the majority being drawn from NHSBSA’s own systems. This approach is suitable for these statistics in that it provides maximum coverage while at the same time minimising costs. There are, however, potential sources of error that could impact on the accuracy of the figures. NHSBSA should make clear that there is a degree of uncertainty in the figures, to ensure that users do not wrongly conclude that they are precise.

A separate team in NHSBSA carries out a variety of assurance checks as part of the prescriptions processing procedure. However, errors identified as part of this procedure are not always corrected in the data and the statistical team at NHSBSA has not yet investigated the impact of this on the accuracy of the statistics. We encourage NHSBSA to explore the impact of these checks on the accuracy of the statistics and either make any adjustments necessary or communicate clearly to users the accuracy of the statistics and the sources of any uncertainty.


As NHSBSA is a new producer of official statistics, the interim lead official has taken steps to establish good links with the Head of Profession for Statistics at the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC). He told us that he feels professionally supported in his role and able to approach DHSC for ad hoc advice.

NHSBSA has published a general statistical workplan and currently has several separate development plans relating to separate strands of these statistics. To enhance transparency, it has committed to compiling these individual plans into one over-arching development plan for these statistics, and publishing this plan on its website.


Next steps

NHSBSA is aiming to meet the requirements of this report by its next annual publication of the statistics in November 2021. Once NHSBSA reports back to OSR on how it has met the requirements within this report, the UK Statistics Authority will take advice from OSR and decide whether to confirm the National Statistics designation.

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