6 great places to find data on health in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland

Where do you find data to put your story into context – or give you ideas for stories in the first place? Here are some of the places that come in handy for understanding health in England and the UK as a whole:

1. Indicator Portal (HSCIC)

The Health and Social Care Information Centre‘s (HSCIC) Indicator Portal is a treasure trove providing detail down to GP surgery or hospital level on everything from mortality and disease prevalence to patient experience.

But it also includes socioeconomic data, like the proportion of people in an area who have been out of work for over a year, the number of robberies in an area, and homelessness, plus education and environmental factors.

There’s quite a time-lag on most of the data, sadly – sometimes it’s from 2011 – so it’s best for background rather than new information.

2. Situation reports (SitReps)

If you want really up to date information it doesn’t get much better than the SitReps published by NHS England, which provide information on A&E admissions and waiting times for the last week.

The BBC recently used the data as the basis for a live A&E tracker. As you can see, the key approach is to put the figures into context, both nationally and historically:

NHS winter sitrep tracker

3. Hospital Episode Statistics (HSCIC)

The HES section of the HSCIC site contains all sorts of information about how patients are admitted to hospitals and what happens to them, including maternity services.

The navigation on the site is not particularly easy to follow – for example many of the most useful links are on the right hand side of the page.

Also, a lot of the data is only at aggregate level – try adding the phrase “Provider level analysis” or “by provider” in the search box to get more detail by hospital or trust. It’s not timely but it is more timely than the Indicator Portal – in March 2014 you can get data up to December 2013.

Helpfully, the site does provide a publications calendar, so you can plan ahead for future releases.

4. Gov.uk and Data.gov.uk publications

Not all data about health is published by NHS England or the HSCIC. The central Gov.uk website’s Publications section allows you to subscribe to email updates or RSS alerts when new information is published that covers the topic ‘National Health Service’, or comes from the Department of Health – or you can simply choose those containing a keyword such as ‘health’.

You can also choose to get updates on all publications, including research and consultations, or just statistics.

gov uk publications

A similar central repository is the Data.gov.uk website, which allows you to search by keywordselect the ‘Health’ theme, or browse by publisher (department or body). There’s a lot of overlap here, but you may find data on one which isn’t on the other.

health publishers

5. TheyWorkForYou and WhatDoTheyKnow

There’s plenty of data released in responses to FOI requests. Getting hold of those isn’t easy, however, as there are hundreds of bodies which potentially could publish responses.

Some are published on the Gov.uk publications site listed above, but it’s also worth subscribing to an email or RSS alert from the FOI request site WhatDoTheyKnow. You might try a broad search like ‘health’, or a type of organisation, like ‘CCG’.

Another useful source is Parliamentary written answers: these are responses to questions from MPs and Peers and often include tables of data. You can use the sister site TheyWorkForYou to search written answers specifically (use the drop-down menu for Section) and/or specify that you’re only interested in answers from the Department of Health. Here’s an example search for ‘health’.

6. Regulators and auditors

The Care Quality Commission (CQC) inspects a range of health services, from hospitals and GP surgeries to dentists and care homes.

It publishes some (not very useful) data that basically lists details on the “places that provide care”, including the date last inspected. But its most useful data – results from almost 100,000 inspections, comes from browsing its directory and clicking on individual links.

Also worth looking at is the National Audit Office, which has a section of reports on health and social care.

Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales

Many of the links above relate to data for England, but the same data is normally available at similar sites in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland – these include:


Serious Untoward Incidents and FOI

Every time something goes wrong in the NHS it creates a paper trail… And that means that investigators can use the Freedom of Information Act to find out exactly what has happened.


If something happens on a ward – from patients abusing staff all the way to clinical errors – it needs to be recorded. These events are known in the NHS as “Serious Untoward Incidents” (SUIs).

Every time one of these incidents occurs it is reported through the NHS – from the ward up to managers to the regional body that is responsible for the clinic. Continue reading

Transcripts: NUJ event – Reporting on our health services

The European Health Journalism website has published transcripts of the NUJ masterclass this month where I spoke about investigating health. Direct links are copied below:

You can also find audio of the three speakers other from me in a previous post on HMI Health.

Richard Vize on CCGs – notes from #reportinghealth

Carol Miers wrote up her notes on the speech by health expert Richard Vize at Help Me Investigate Health’s #reportinghealth event – we’ve reproduced them below with permission:

“GPs tend to be self employed business people, they hate NHS bureaucracy and hate being told what to do, now they are taken away from patient contact, they have to work on committees, they have their business interests compromised, they have become a cog in the bureaucracy and are subject to control from the Department of Health.”

This, added Richard Vize, opens up health reporting because there is now oversight from the Health and Wellbeing board which – given that GPs are vocal – will bring in an area of openness and debate. Continue reading

Hospital food hygiene ratings: how to find them in your area

A version of this post covering schools appears on Help Me Investigate Education.

With food hygiene in the news following the horsemeat scandal, I thought I’d put together a quick guide on getting information about your own local hospitals’ hygiene ratings.

You can download FSA ratings of food hygiene for each local authority. This includes hospitals and other healthcare providers.

However, the downloads are in XML format, so you’ll need to first convert it to a spreadsheet. There are online tools to help you do this and you can also use the free data cleaning tool Google Refine.

Once you’ve done that, you’ll need to drill down to the hospitals. Continue reading

Document: who’s responsible for what in health?

Monitoring health bodies - and interventions

If you want to get an overview of the different parties involved in the new health system and their roles – including some new players as well as old players with new responsibilities – a recent report from the National Quality Board‘s (NQB) is worth a look.

Quality in the Health System (PDF) was published to provide context to the establishment of Quality Surveillance Groups, but alongside the guidance there’s lots of very useful context for those getting to grips with the new system. Continue reading

Meet the CCG’s with their work cut out

Cross-posted from CCG Latest News:

They are taking control in April but some CCGs have a tougher job on their hands than others. Meet three commissioning groups with a big challenge ahead of them.

Dr Foster, which supplies intelligence and analysis on NHS services, rated three hospital trusts as being inefficient with cost and care and having a high mortality rate when compared to other NHS trusts.

They are University Hospital Birmingham NHS Trust, The Princess Alexandra Hospital NHS Trust and Burton Hospitals NHS Trust.

So which CCG’s are going to be tasked with turning around these failing hospitals? We’ve compiled the data below: Continue reading

Recipe: what’s the worst time to go to A&E?

Today we publish the first results of a collaboration with the Birmingham Mail: when’s the worst time to go to A&E in the West Midlands? (It’s 1am, by the way).  Or, to give it its print headline: “A&E delays worst in the early hours”.

The story could be repeated in any region. Here’s how you can do it yourself: Continue reading

Will commissioners respond to feedback?

A date for your editorial diary in the latest briefing from the NHS Commissioning Board, on one specific pledge being made on health services:

“All NHS patients should have the opportunity to leave feedback, in real time, on any service, by 2015. This will start with roll out of a friends-and-family test to see if patients would recommend a hospital to those to whom they are closest. Clinical commissioners will need to demonstrate they have responded.”

This is a concrete marker to track in holding the new system to account. Worth making a note in your diary!