NHS Providers' submission to Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee inquiry into Covid-19: Data transparency and accountability

Key points

  1. As the first wave of the pandemic unfolded, the need to evidence what was happening in real time was immediately clear and there has been growing pressure for more information and data relating to COVID-19 since then. Together, agencies such as Public Health England, NHS England and Improvement and the Office of National Statistics have shown a broad commitment to transparency and have significantly increased the volume and frequency of the data being published. As we enter a phase of local surges, it is imperative that the data and rationale on which the Government bases decisions around local lockdowns is clearly explained and accessible to the public and local leaders.
  2. Secondary care providers are major contributors to regular data collection relating to COVID-19. However, requests for data returns from trusts should be coordinated across government agencies and arm’s length bodies (ALBs) to avoid duplication. Requests must be proportionate, and key data should be published to help improve the public’s understanding of the virus and its impact, including on the NHS.
  3. COVID-19 has resulted in a rapid expansion of digital capability in the NHS. However, more capital investment is needed to sustain this and to improve data sharing and data interoperability between different NHS organisations and across health and care systems.
  4. The pandemic has highlighted two gaps which should be addressed:
    1. The death registration and certificate process should be amended to help us better understand the impact of COVID-19 on Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) groups. It is crucial we collect this information to help us better understand and help reduce health inequalities and we therefore welcome the recent recommendation from the Government’s Race Disparity Unit and subsequent commitment from the Government to introduce a new mandate for ethnicity to be recorded as part of the death certification process.
    2. There must be better joined up use of data between health and social care providers to help manage patient flow and discharge processes. The Department of Health and Social Care should consider working with the social care sector to develop data returns for social care providers which go beyond the voluntary Skills for Care National Minimum Data Set for Social Care to ensure complete national coverage and accurate data. In our view, such a data set would help all stakeholders across health and care systems better understand the demand for social care provision and the interdependencies between the NHS and care homes in particular.
  5. Throughout the evolution of the Test and Trace system there have been widespread concerns about the accuracy and completeness of the data. Accurate and timely data is needed to grow public confidence in the system and NHS app. There have also been concerns as to whether the national testing data is being provided to local authorities in sufficient detail to allow them to do their job ‘on the ground’. Additionally, there are concerns that data from Pillar two tests (swab testing for the wider population) is not being integrated with all relevant patient health records at sufficient speed and with sufficient consistency, which means subsequent treatment is less efficient for some patients. We need the right data to get to the right point, in the required format, to the time and quality that is needed. Feedback and levels of satisfaction or dissatisfaction from both NHS clinicians, and local public health directors, would be a good measure of success here.
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