Bob Allen, interim chief executive of the new Information Centre for Health and Social Care, has spoken to E-Health Insider about the centre’s responsibilities when it comes into being as a special authority on 1 April, 2005.

The centre takes over some of the role of the NHS Information Authority, which is to be disbanded as part of the government’s arm’s-length review of NHS bodies. It is to take over numerous responsibilities including payment by results, health informatics standards and networks, as well as community nursing and mental health statistics and analysis of what will replace star ratings. (Full list at the bottom of this article)

The Information Centre will be a DH arm’s-length body. While accountable to the Department of Health, it will be a self-governing body and will have a chairman, chief executive and board of directors. According to Allen, around 120 staff will be transferred from the NHSIA, with more being appointed when the full functions of the agency have been clarified.

“The Information Centre will be breaking new ground as it will bring together health and social care information in an operational setting," explained Bob Allen.

"Our aim will be to co-ordinate data collections and analyse information requirements across health and adult social care and focus on simplifying existing processes.  One of our early priorities will be to consult with health and social care professionals to examine the way they use information to support health and social care. An outcome of this may be the development of new services to support performance monitoring, service planning and clinical governance.

"We will also analyse statistical results as required and set standards for best practice between service users and those interested in reported NHS performance, for instance regulatory bodies such as Monitor and the Health Commission.

“One thing we can be sure of is that the Information Centre will at all times seek to satisfy the requirements of statutory central returns, genuine frontline demand for information services and support for patient choice."

Allen argues that health and social information are part of the same care system, and that the first job of the agency is to undertake work to integrate the two more fully: ” Part of our initial priority work will be to look at the way information is currently collected across the NHS and social care spectrums and look at ways to introduce single or reduced numbers of data collection points."

“I and others in the team have been proactively speaking to front line service providers and regulators. As an arm’s length body we will be streamlining data collection, which will hopefully reduce the burden of collecting central returns."

"We will be supporting local trusts in the implementation of Payment By Results which is a vital component to enable commissioning and ultimately patient choice.

“At the same time we have and will be continuing to look at how our stakeholders use reported performance information and how we can make it as accessible as possible."

The groundwork has already begun, says Allen, and the agency is currently in transition. “We are currently running with a ‘shadow’ board supported by Department of Health and NHS Information Authority staff.  Activity in the NHS is constant and we have to balance the need for service continuity with the migration to improved ways of data co-ordination and information sharing." The Centre is working closely with the NPfIT, Allen says

“I have been impressed by the enthusiasm and commitment of the staff forming the new organisation and we I need to ensure we keep the momentum of change and reform going," said Allen.

"Good information has never been more important. At the same time we must reduce the burden on front line staff for the collection of that information.

“The ability of the NHS to modernize and improve patient care and services will be dependent on a clear understanding of both clinical and service performance."

Services to transfer to the Centre

The transfer on April 1 2005 from both the IA and DH will include:

  • NHS Clinical Datasets Service

  • National Analytical Services including training

  • National Clinical Audit Support including heart disease, diabetes and cancer

  • Payment by Results

  • Implementation Services

  • Secondary User Service

  • Health Informatics standards and networks

The DH are transferring statistical services for health, social care performance and workforce including:

  • Hospital episode statistics including morbidity

  • Adult social care statistics including workforce

  • General practice (such as workforce, vacancies and patient care including morbidity)

  • Ophthalmic statistics (including sight tests, workforce, vouchers)

  • Lifestyle statistics (including smoking drinking etc.)

  • Dental statistics (such as emergency dental services and analysis for Inland Revenue incomes and expenditure)

  • Pharmacy and prescription service statistics

  • Contraception, abortion, immunisation 

  • Community nursing

  • Midwifery and maternity services

  • Ambulance services

  • Therapy

  • Cancer screening

  • Star rating analysis

  • Mental health

  • Population and geographic boundary

  • Omnibus surveys and central coordination services

  • Prescribing (such as patterns, volume and cost of prescribing)

Organisation support functions such as Caldicott guardian, some stakeholder relations and health and safety will also be transferring.