NEWS9 March 2021

RSS calls for health data review

Covid-19 Healthcare News Public Sector UK

UK – Professional body for statisticians the Royal Statistical Society (RSS) has called for greater transparency around data and a review of the UK’s health statistics to address a ‘fragmented’ system.

healthcare workers walking along a hospital corridor

As part of its recommendations for how statistics could be better used in future health crises, published to mark one year since the government’s Covid-19 action plan, the RSS said the UK has ‘underinvested in health data’ and neglected the way it is organised.

Public health data should be viewed as ‘critical national infrastructure’, according to the recommendations, which call for a review to cover how health and demographic data is gathered and published; levels of investment; how to join up data across the UK nations; and how infrastructure aligns with data analysis.

Social care data should also be part of this review, according to the recommendations, pointing to a lack of data on care homes.

The RSS has also called for a pandemic surveillance system to monitor potential future health emergencies, saying that the government’s Covid-19 response in England was ‘hampered by paucity of data’.

Additionally, the RSS said the public should be given the full information behind any policy announcements, and pointed to the Scottish government’s publication of data as an example of good practice.

Professor Sylvia Richardson, RSS president and co-chair of the RSS Covid-19 Task Force, said: “As often is the case in times of crisis, existing issues, both societal and structural have been brought to the fore. It’s now important that we learn lessons from the past year. So, we are better prepared for future pandemics, the government must look how to fully harness the power of statistics by improving our data infrastructure and surveillance systems.”

Stian Westlake, chief executive, the RSS, added: “Statistics have been crucial both to our understanding of the pandemic and to our efforts to fight it. While we hope we won’t see another pandemic on this scale, we need to see a culture change now – with more transparency around data and evidence, stronger mechanisms to challenge the misuse of statistics, and leaders with statistical skills.”