How do we create an overall picture of health in the UK, when the data produced by each of the four nations can be different? Statistical coherence is about bringing together statistics on the same topic to give a better understanding of the part of the world they describe. In this blog, Becky Tinsley explains how the ONS, the devolved administrations, and health bodies, are working together to improve the comparability of UK health data, allowing us to better join the pieces of the puzzle.
When systems, legislative power, and subsequent policies are devolved (such as in health and social care), the data produced by each country can be different as it responds to different policies and represents the different needs of the populations of each nation. This can create challenges in directly comparing or joining up statistics across the UK.
A joined-up, UK-wide, statistical picture allows for deeper and wider insight, which in turn helps users and policy makers in their decision making. Coherence is a key aspect of high-quality official statistics as the inability to compare statistics creates challenges to service planning, as well as to evaluation and development of new policies across the UK.
Indeed, the pandemic has accelerated the joining up of analysts in government and strengthened links across departments and the devolved administrations – both at an operational and a strategic level.
That’s where we come in.
The ONS is working with partners across the UK statistical system (government departments, health departments, and health bodies) to make it easier to understand the comparability of health data for England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, whilst respecting the devolved nature of these statistics.
This blog from August 2022 sets out how the Government Statistical Service (GSS) has driven forward change to make health statistics more coherent in England.
We have now expanded this work to support the production of UK-wide coherent health statistics. Cross-Government initiatives, led through the UK Health Statistics Steering Group, are working to make sure data are coherent, accessible, and meet users’ needs.
Driving forward improvements
The ONS is partnering with health bodies to advance improvements in statistical coherence in health data. We have already produced a summary of ambulance response time data in the UK, which explains how categories differ between countries in the UK. Further publications are planned, which will bring together published data from across the four nations and explain how the data fits within the different policy frameworks and infrastructures. These will cover A&E waiting times, NHS workforce numbers, referral to treatment times and elective waiting times, NHS satisfaction and experience measures and cancer treatment times.
This work will continue to better describe health across the four nations and will continue through 2024 with a greater focus on health outcomes. We will focus on providing the UK wide picture of health, improving the user experience and understanding, and discouraging misuse of data. We will also aim to complement the existing work on health statistics by health bodies across the UK and the devolved administrations.
What can we learn from people that use our data?
Interviews and focus groups we conducted in the summer of 2022, with analysts from different sectors, investigated needs for statistical coherence. The findings from this research showed the importance of statistical producers from different organisations collaborating to bring together data from a range of sources.
Building on this work, we have continued to engage through a user survey which has provided insight into the need for coherent health data. One government data user noted how bringing together data “enhances the story around health inequalities and ensures consistent messaging. This enhances collaborative working and potentially avoids duplication”.
These findings reinforce the value of bringing data together, whether across themes or the four nations of the UK, to gain greater insight and help answer the most important questions of the day, putting together the pieces of the puzzle to form a wider picture.
We want to build on this earlier engagement by hearing about your experiences and challenges. If you want to get involved, please get in touch at GSS.Coherence@ons.gov.uk.