Response from Peter May to Sir Robert Chote – COVID-19 Lessons learnt

Dear Robert,

Thank you for your letter of 1 November commending the Office for Statistics Regulation’s report, ‘2022 update: lessons learned for health and social care statistics from the COVID-19 pandemic’. The report highlights the enormous work that has taken place throughout the UK in producing and reporting statistics on the impact of the pandemic and the innovative way this complex information was made available to the public in a timely and transparent manner. The report rightly points to the public’s expectations that all statistics should be as comprehensive, timely and well presented as those in the various COVID-19 dashboards and that these should be well explained with proper contextual information. I note the support and engagement of DoH officials in the production of the report and fully endorse its content and findings. I was particularly pleased to see the recognition given to NI specific developments, including the Encompass programme, the work of the NI Mental Health Outcomes Framework Group and the success of the department’s COVID-19 and Cancer Waiting Times Dashboards.

I agree with the report’s findings that there is still work to be done to fully implement the recommendations of your 2021 report. DoH statisticians, and other departmental officials as required, will continue to work closely with your team to deliver on these. We will continue to support cross-UK collaborative efforts to bring harmonisation and consistency to Health and Social Care statistical outputs.

Yours sincerely,

Peter May


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Sir Robert Chote to Peter May – COVID-19 Lessons learnt

Sir Robert Chote to Peter May – COVID-19 Lessons learnt

Dear Peter,

I am pleased to write to you commending the Office for Statistics Regulation’s report that was published today. 2022 update: lessons learned for health and social care statistics from the COVID-19 pandemic  is an insightful analysis of the last year of the pandemic.

In its 2021 report, the Office for Statistics Regulation (OSR) highlighted the vital role that data and statistics played during the pandemic in supporting individuals to reach informed decisions. It has been possible to meet the increased analytical demands of the pandemic thanks to the extraordinary, dedicated efforts of the statisticians and analysts in your department. For that, I thank them all.

In its 2022 update, much like the UK’s health and care services, OSR has found a statistical system which is transitioning from pandemic crisis mode to living with COVID-19. While the intense analytical demands of the pandemic have eased, a real challenge is maintaining some level of analysis relating to COVID-19 while publishing new statistics to measure emerging issues, such as new disease outbreaks, and re-invigorating ‘business as usual’ statistics, such as those on NHS performance and the health and social care workforces. In the context of the increased demands on producers, we have identified four key areas which support the production of statistics which serve the public good:

  • Horizon scanning – understanding what information people need
  • Availability – ensuring data and statistics are made available in an accessible and transparent way
  • Collaboration – sharing data, plugging gaps and improving coherence and comparability
  • Communication – continuing to innovate and communicate statistics in a clear and engaging way to a wide range of users

We have seen many improvements to health and social care statistics over the last year. We have found a better understanding of the need for transparency of numbers used publicly by governments and are encouraged by new statistics published on topics of high public interest and ongoing efforts to fill existing data gaps. However, there is still progress to be made against several recommendations in our 2021 report, such as improving, where possible, the comparability of statistics across the UK and overcoming barriers to data sharing.

There are several developments relating to health and social care data in Northern Ireland which we consider will support producers in their ability to provide timely information and analysis to support future decision-making.  The development of a new digital integrated patient record across health and social care through the encompass programme provides an opportunity to improve currently disparate IT systems and allow greater standardisation of data. I look forward to the successful implementation of this programme, and trust that sufficient resource will be made available to turn new operational data into published statistics.

Yours sincerely

Sir Robert Chote


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Response from Peter May to Sir Robert Chote – COVID-19 lessons learnt

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Sir David Norgrove to Robin Swann MLA – OSR Covid Lessons Learned report

Dear Minister,

Today, the Office for Statistics Regulation (OSR) has published its review; Improving health and social care statistics: lessons learned from the COVID-19 pandemic.

The pandemic resulted in a huge public appetite for data and statistics. It has also drawn attention to existing challenges for health and social care statistics. I am sure you would agree that the health system needs both to learn lessons and to build on its achievements in this area.

The efforts of those involved in the production of COVID-19 statistics have been remarkable, in many cases overcoming challenges which would previously have seemed insurmountable. However, there have been times when data about COVID-19 in Northern Ireland have not met expectations around accessibility or transparency – for example, on vaccination statistics.

The pandemic also highlighted the importance of transparency, so essential for building public confidence in statistics and in government decisions based on them. When statistics and data are quoted publicly by ministers or senior officials, they should be supported by a publication which provides the data in an accessible form with appropriate explanations of context, limitations, and sources.

I would be happy to meet with you to discuss these topics further.

Yours sincerely,

Sir David Norgrove