A range of new NHS data problems, relating to payment methods, information for commissioning and patient confidentiality, have come to light.

A new report from the Audit Commission, PbR Data Assurance Framework 2007/08, suggests that almost one in ten hospital procedures is incorrectly coded, which affects payment of hospitals by PCTs. The rate of errors was as low as 1% in some of the hospitals in which their study of 50,000 episioes of care were carried out – in others, it was as high as 525.

Athough the report does not suggest deliberate mis-charging (whether over r under), it describes “a number of cases where the net financial impact of errors was locally significant”.

While the errors contributed to a gross financial mis-charging of almost £3.5 million, for most trusts there was as much undercharging as overcharging, making little real financial difference

Data quality
It suggests that to improve data quality and user confidence, the Department of Health and the NHS IT programme Connecting for Health should bring in a wider data quality programme.

The Audit Commission has created its own online benchmarking: the National Benchmarker, which it recommends that trusts use regularly to review coding irregularities and problem areas.

PBC data still not strong
The Department of Health’s latest quarterly survey on the progress of GP practice-based commissioning (PBC) found that despite a slight increase with satisfaction about the quality of the data provided by PCTs, 35% of respondents remain dissatisfied. 1Of this mintority, 16% of practices rated the quality of information provided as ‘very poor’ and a further 21% rated it ‘fairly poor’.

33% of GP practices rated their PCT’s management support for PBC ‘fairly or very good’ However, the majority - 48% - described it as ‘fairly or very poor’.

Overall, GP practice support for PBC has risen from 37% 12 months ago to 49% today, and that 46% of practices have commissioned new services as a result of PBC. Yet surprisingly, just 18% of practices agreed that PBC has improved patient care

Lacking protection
Meanwhile, the Health Service Journal reports on an unofficial survey of 105 colleagues by two anonymous doctors as a “top London hospital” which found that three-quarters of them carried unsecured memory sticks with confidential data.

Although such memory sticks are permitted, their access should be protected by passwords. Just five of the 79 memory sticks with confidential information were protected in this way.