Horizon scanning: looking to the future of health and social care data and statistics

What we said in October 2021:

Statistics producers should be proactive in meeting user needs to minimise gaps in future.

What we found during October 2021-October 2022:

In order to ensure that statistics provide the information people need, producers must have a good understanding of their users. They must also be aware of issues which are topical or likely to become topical in the near future. We asked both users and producers of health and social care statistics which topics they think will be of highest importance over the next few years. It is encouraging that the answers given by producers and users align very closely. The topics mentioned most frequently by both groups were: waiting times and NHS performance more generally; the indirect impact of the pandemic on services; social care; and health inequalities. Other topics raised by both groups included workforce, mental health, respiratory surveillance, primary care and, in Scotland, drug deaths. We found that, as a result of the increased public engagement in data and statistics about COVID-19, many health and social care producers have developed their understanding of their users – who they are and what they need. This is discussed in more detail in the section on communication. It will be important that producers continue to engage with users to ensure the ongoing alignment of priorities. It will also be useful for producers to continue to engage with each other to share insights and identify priorities. For example, the English health statistics leadership forum carries out collaborative horizon scanning among producers in England in order to anticipate future statistical needs.

There are several developments relating to health and social care data across the UK which we consider will support producers in their ability to provide information on these important topics in future. For example, the Data Saves Lives strategy for England supports the use of health and social care data for official statistics and is ambitious about improvements for both health and social care data. The Scottish Government is currently developing its Data Strategy for health and social care. Given that the pandemic demonstrated the importance of providing aggregated statistics to inform a wide range of people, we hope to see this purpose of health and social care data included in the final strategy. In Northern Ireland, the development of a new digital integrated patient record across health and social care through the encompass programme provides an opportunity to improve currently disparate IT systems and allow greater standardisation of data. Robust data collection methods are the foundations on which good statistics are built, so this is a huge step forward towards improving statistics on health in Northern Ireland. In Wales, the ongoing transformation of health and social care using digital and data services presents several opportunities to improve the development and effectiveness of statistics, including the development of the National Data Resource and a strategic approach to social care data. The successful implementation of all of these data strategies and projects will depend on sufficient resource being made available, for example to turn new operational data into published statistics.

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