4. How mental health statistics can be improved
In Chapter 3 we have made recommendations for short to medium-term improvements to mental health statistics and data collection, and have noted where work is ongoing to address key issues.
However, three strategic actions are required to support and deliver the long-term transformation in mental health statistics needed to support Northern Ireland’s new Mental Health Strategy:
- The Department of Health (NI), as part of the ‘New Ways of Working’ theme in the Mental Health Strategy 2021-2031, should use and build upon our findings in this report to augment and improve the availability of official data on mental health.
- Statisticians, analysts and clinical experts who lead the provision of mental health services must be involved in the development of standardised data collection methods and mental health outcome indicators, as highlighted in the Mental Health Strategy 2021-2031.
- Data and statistics need to be recognised as a valuable public asset. Given the extent of changes needed to improve mental health statistics in NI, the Department of Health (NI) should consider whether a separate data strategy is required to support and deliver the ambitions set out in the Mental Health Strategy 2021-2031.
The availability of mental health data and statistics needs to be improved
The need for regional professional leadership across the five HSC Trusts is recognised within the Mental Health Strategy 2021-2031. Consistent data collections across all mental health services will ensure that the foundations are in place to produce trustworthy, high quality and valuable official statistics. These are the building blocks to support robust statistical production. The Department of Health (NI) should use and build upon our findings to improve the availability of official data and statistics. This will then lead to a better evidence base to inform Executive decision making about mental health provision in Northern Ireland and allow the Department of Health (NI) to robustly monitor and evaluate the effectiveness of the changes made as a result of the strategy.
Statisticians, analysts and clinical experts must be involved in the development of standardised data collection methods and mental health outcome indicators
In the Mental Health Strategy (2021-2031), the following outcomes are listed under ‘Data and outcomes’:
- A clear, evidence-based outcome framework which allows evidence to be the foundation for decision making
- A robust dataset which is comparable across Trusts to measure performance and determine what works
We would strongly advocate that to achieve the outcomes highlighted in the strategy, statisticians, analysts and clinical experts must be involved as part of the development process. A standardised mental health data collection across each of the five Trusts would be the first and most important step in achieving this goal.
Data and statistics need to be recognised as a valuable public asset
The aims of the Mental Health Strategy set out a vision for the next 10 years. In order to achieve this ambition, official statistics and data must be regarded as a valuable public asset – and the importance of them in informing policy and public debate recognised by senior leads.
Given this, we would encourage the Department of Health (NI) as part of the implementation of the Mental Health Strategy (2021-2031) to develop a data strategy. The strategy should include detailed plans on how the ‘data and outcomes’ actions will be achieved in practice. Sustained and appropriate investment in data and statistics, both human and technological resources, is needed to enable effective monitoring of mental health services in Northern Ireland and this requires regional commitment. Underlying all this, we argue that for the public to have confidence in statistics, they should meet the highest standards of trustworthiness, quality and value.Back to top