Giving data depth: analysing the NHS donor register

In the last post I introduced you to my data project on the organ donor register – and since then, the topic has cropped up again in the news agenda. Via a Google Alert, I electonically stumbled across an impassioned campaign by the Glasgow Evening Times to change Scottish donation laws so consent is presumed unless a person specifically opts out. The paper has accompanied its vociferous championing with a series of stirring case-study pieces.

Which brings me back to my data.

The hardest part of a journalistic data project, apart from the analysis itself, is framing your data requirements in such way that it will a) yield a significant body of information and b) that body of information will, in turn, yield some interesting stories.

Via a Freedom of Information request I asked for data right back to the register’s computerised inception in 1994 – based on the details you supply when you join: geographical region, age, gender, ethnicity, method of joining (by which I mean, did you choose, for instance, to sign up online or via your Boots Advantage Card?) and what organs you’d like to donate.

Disparities within these criteria, I hope, will bring forth some fascinating themes.

The NHSBT has been extremely helpful as my project gathers pace – as I mentioned last time, its website is brimming with facts and figures so it seems to me that, refreshingly, it is a statistics-savvy public body.

I spoke to a statistician there who explained how the data would be sent to me. A couple of things arose from this – people aren’t obliged to give their ethnicity when they register, so this data won’t be complete; and also that small bowels are so rarely transplanted it’s not worth having the stats on how many people are willing to donate.

All this got me thinking about context. To give data resonance, it needs perspective. For instance, say 3,000 people from Yorkshire and Humberside are on the register, versus only 500 in the Channel Islands: although the latter figure is significantly smaller, it probably constitutes a great proportion of the regional population.

So, to give my data depth, I will have to layer other stats on it. I’ve got recent population data via the ONS. And I’ve been looking into some existing stats on transplant; knowing how many people are waiting for a donation, will hopefully make the number willing to donate all the more stark.

According to the NHSBT there are 10,000 plus people currently needing a transplant – and over 3500 transplants are carried annually; between 1 April 2010 and 31 March 2011 it was 3740 thanks to 2055 donors.

Next step; playing with the data!

One thought on “Giving data depth: analysing the NHS donor register

  1. Pingback: Unearthing some trends in the organ donor register | Help Me Investigate Health

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