Public Health Scotland (PHS) is pleased to have received independent assurance from the Office for Statistics Regulation (OSR) that its statistics about some of the most important areas of health service activity in Scotland (inpatient, day cases, new outpatient and weekly and monthly A&E activity) meet the highest standards set out in the Code of Practice for Statistics. As a result, they all now have the status 'accredited official statistics' - the label designed to help people know when statistics have been independently verified as trustworthy, high quality, and delivering public value. Here Scott Heald (PHS’s Head of Profession for Statistics), with input from Catherine Bromley (Head of Service in PHS who leads the statistical governance function), explains why this accreditation matters.
A huge amount of meticulous work takes place across the NHS and in PHS to ensure that the data recorded in healthcare settings in every part of the country can be turned into publications and data worthy of the label, accredited official statistics. It’s a testament to the amazing work performed by thousands of people that PHS’s statistics are designated in this way.
But why does this matter and what does it actually mean in practice for the people who use, plan, deliver and monitor these services?
Monitoring and reporting waiting times in a consistent way across the country and across time is important for patients, policy makers and service managers. At the heart of all these statistics is a person who matters – either because they have used an NHS service or because they are waiting to use one. The fact that these statistics are compiled and published happens because it has long been recognised that the time spent waiting for treatment is important to people and their families. Policy makers and service managers can use these data to monitor performance, look for best practice and intervene if needed. The volume of people using services and how patterns differ between groups in society are also helpful measures for public health professionals who need to understand where demands are coming from.
This work can only be useful if the data actually measures what it is meant to and is collected in a consistent way. To be judged high quality, accredited official statistics must therefore demonstrate that sufficient quality assurance is in place to give people this confidence that the figures are accurate and, most importantly, any known issues with the data are understood and clearly signposted (no data is 100% perfect, after all).
To support trustworthiness, official statistics should be available to all users at the same time, in an orderly way. This is why PHS publishes all its statistics at set times (typically at 9:30am on Tuesdays and Thursdays) and announces their release dates in advance. Another key feature of trustworthy official statistics is that all decisions about what should be published are made by PHS’s Head of Profession for Statistics, rather than the managers or politicians involved in running health services.
For statistics to be used effectively and have high public value they need to be up to date and presented in ways that make sense to users. To ensure its statistics deliver public value, PHS puts a lot of work into ensuring data is available in a timely fashion. This is why we publish the newly accredited weekly A&E activity statistics from emergency departments as well as the more detailed monthly accredited statistics that also include data from minor injury units and smaller clinics. We recognised that A&E statistics were needed on a weekly basis and have been working to achieve their accredited status, so that users can have the same level of confidence that is already in place for monthly A&E statistics. We are also publishing the weekly statistics using a new dashboard format with downloadable open data – formats which users have told us they find more useful than some of the other ways our statistics are published. Our Statistics Governance team support PHS to ensure our statistics meet the Code of Practice’s standards. They are always looking for ways to innovate - please get in touch if you have any thoughts to share about what you want from our data and whether our publication formats meet your needs.
So, the next time you or a significant person in your life ends up in A&E or has a referral for inpatient, day case or outpatient treatment, be assured that this experience matters to PHS, and to us personally as the leaders of the statistics and data professionals in PHS. We will do all we can to ensure those experiences are captured and reported in a way that delivers public value, with high quality data by people who have been demonstrated to be trustworthy.
View the OSR assessment of A&E stats.
Accredited official statistics are called National Statistics in the Statistics and Registration Service Act 2007.