Bringing together UK health statistics

Hospital corridor

Making government statistics accessible to everyone and coherent across data sets maximises the value they bring to important topics. The ONS has been working with the devolved administrations and health bodies to bring together and improve the statistical coherence of UK health data. Becky Tinsley shares an update on this work and explains how it will help create a deeper and wider understanding of health.  

With ever more complex health issues facing our population, it’s crucial that health and social care statistics evolve to continue to provide the most relevant and timely data, to raise awareness and inform decisions. One of the main challenges is that data produced by each of the four nations on this topic can be different, as it is a devolved policy area. This means that each country develops policies which suit the needs of their differing populations, and these policy differences are reflected in the data produced. It can therefore be challenging to piece the puzzle together and form a wider picture.  

As outlined in a previous blog, the ONS has been working with the devolved administrations to make it easier to understand health data from across the UK. Our work will help to create a joined-up statistical picture, which in turn supports policy makers in their decision making. However, this doesn’t mean that we’re developing a ‘one size fits all’ approach to data across the four nations. We understand that there are differences in policy, infrastructure and processes which may impact data collection and our ability to make comparisons. There are also other factors that are important to consider, like differences in the age of each of the countries’ populations, which impact people’s health and result in different demands on the health service.  

By considering this wider context we can better understand the differences and similarities in statistical outputs across the nations, and the areas they describe. 

Progress so far 

As part of this work, we have now published two articles using data from health bodies across the UK.  

The first is a Summary of ambulance response time data in the UK with input from NHS England, Department of Health Northern Ireland, Scottish Government, Scottish Ambulance Service, Welsh Government and Welsh Ambulance Services NHS Trust. This explains the differences in how each nation’s published data is defined and outlines why ambulance response time data from each UK nation cannot be meaningfully compared. This new understanding supports policy making and other data users by ensuring data is not misinterpreted due to inappropriate data comparisons.  

Secondly, our article about Accident and Emergency wait times across the UK, shares published data which is broadly comparable for England, Scotland, and Wales. We also explore the wider differences between countries which should be considered when interpreting wait time data. These include differences in the demographics of different populations, different health facilities available, and differences in health care policies.  

The report highlights that there has been a general upward trend in the percentage of A&E attendances waiting longer than four hours in 24-hour consultant led A&E departments in all countries of the UK, between January 2013 and September 2023. 

Signposting our work  

We have launched a new area on the ONS website, Statistics across the UK, which sets out our work to improve how users access data produced across governments and the devolved administrations. Information is provided to allow users to compare UK data, where appropriate, and understand where comparisons cannot be made for instance because of differing policies, methodology or sources.    

What’s next? 

We have subsequent publications looking at UK wide health data in the pipeline. These include an outline of NHS workforce numbers across the nations, referral to treatment times, NHS experience measures and cancer treatment wait times. We will continue to update our webpages with details of our ongoing collaboration to support a joined-up picture of UK statistics.  

An important part of this work is hearing about the experiences and challenges of data users and stakeholders. To have your say, or to find out more about the programme of work, please contact  

Becky Tinsley is Deputy Director, ONS Local and Coherence