The Audit Commission has published a new report highlighting the need for NHS organisations to take urgent steps to improve the quality of data used in administrative and clinical systems.

‘Data Remember: Improving the quality of patient-based information in the NHS’, mainly focuses on the quality of data used in administrative systems, and says that as the use of such systems has grown within the NHS "so too have concerns about the quality of data on which the information is based".

The report notes that recent trust reviews by the Commission for Health Improvement have found "a worrying number of examples of incomplete and inaccurate coding, missing data sets, double entry of data and a lack of information awareness among senior staff".

Where trusts have been improvements, the report says it is because data quality has been made a corporate priority. However, only one in four trusts were found to have a fully developed data quality policy.

The reports states that in 18% of trusts reviewed there were 10 or more areas in which little reliance could be placed on the data collected.

While some trusts have done a great deal to improve data quality, the report states that there "are still too many trusts for which information has been too low a priority".

Rapid improvements in data quality are identified as vital to support the new Performance Assessment Framework used to monitor the performance of hospital and primary care trusts (PCTs), which require indicators "that can command full confidence".

Improved data is also vital to meet the NHS Plan’s commitment to make more information available to the public, and to eventually provide patients with direct access to their own health records.

The structural reforms flowing from ‘Shifting the Balance of Power’ similarly make improved data quality a priority. It notes that the transfer of commissioning to PCTs means larger numbers of commissioners will require high quality information, including information on service quality and costs.

Further areas identified as heavily dependant on improved data quality include the development of clinical networks to support National Service Frameworks in areas like cancer, stroke and mental health; clinical governance and audit; and the development of electronic patient records and electronic health records.