NHSE shares aim to create a single source of truth for community health services in new data plan

NHS England has published its NHS Community Health Services Data Plan, 2024/25 to 2026/27, highlighting challenges around data quality, timeliness and relevance in the community health sector and looking to tackle those challenges by building on existing health data strategies.

The long-term vision of the plan is to create a “single source of the truth about community health services from which the NHS can easily draw the timely, actionable insights we need”, incorporating five key ambitions over the next three years. These ambitions are to modernise community health services (CHS) data architecture; to define core data requirements; to standardise definitions of community health services; to achieve targeted data quality improvement; and to support the development of provider data capabilities.

NHSE also sets out sets out four aims that must be achieved in order to realise the vision – to reduce the time to insight, reduce the data collecting burden on organisations, to improve data quality, and to increase alignment to user needs.

The plan goes on to share a number of solutions relating to the ambitions and aims within the plan, with the first being the defining of core CHS data requirements. “With input from providers, we have developed a core, streamlined national CHS data specification as part of the Community Faster Data Flows (FDF) Programme,” NHSE shares. “This will be iterated over time to support NHS priorities and operational decision-making at local and national level.” By April 2024, NHSE pledges to produce a roadmap for CHS data development with recommendations on what national data will be collected in the future and how along with an overarching data model to reflect user requirements and priority models of care; and by September this year, NHSE will have established “transparent change processes for all national CHS specifications”. Additionally, NHSE pledges to work with the sector to develop ways to measure clinical and patient outcomes, and to include “items required to develop both a patient-level information and costing system for community, and community currencies” within core CHS data.

NHSE also emphasises the importance of standardising definitions of community health service, sharing an intention to develop a method of measuring waiting times in CHS by November 2024. By March 2025, NHSE will review guidance for CHS data specifications to ensure clear definitions for which providers and services are in scope.

With regards to modernising CHS data architecture, NHSE highlights the work around the Faster Data Flows (FDF) programme and the Federated Data Platform, and shares a number of related actions including reviewing CHS datasets by May 2025,”to inform decisions and plans regarding transition to automated, daily data flows.” Other actions include developing data visualisation tools for community FDF by April 2025; developing an aligned, strategic approach to primary care and CHS data development by March 2026; and assessing carbon emissions associated with community FDF, also by March 2026.

NHSE also highlights actions around targeted data quality improvement, such as working with the Department of Health and Social Care to ensure CHS representation in any plans to review the national workforce dataset, and reviewing possible financial incentives as well as financial and regulatory levers that could support CHS data quality improvement.

On supporting development of CHS providers’ data capabilities, NHSE commits to continued engagement with clinical IT system suppliers and providers to support ICSs in addressing the challenges around community EPR system functionality, procurement and interoperability. By April 2025, NHSE will review the NHS approach to CHS information standards; and by March 2025, NHSE intends to engage with less digitally mature providers to understand needs and design appropriate support. NHSE highlights the need to share good practice in improving and using CHS data; by September, NHSE plans to work with regions to develop and implement an effective method for sharing good practice, and by November the intention is to develop guidance for CHS providers on what good data quality looks like.

The plan concludes with recommended actions for CHS providers and ICBs; for the first, NHSE encourages providers to onboard to the Community FDF programme, to develop a plan for CHS data management, and to name a strategic lead for CHS data.

For ICBs, recommended actions include encouraging commissioned providers of CHS to onboard to the Community FDF programme; using daily flows of data from Community FDF and identifying opportunities to rationalise local data flows from providers; developing a strategic plan for CHS data; and naming a strategic lead within the ICB for driving system-wide data improvement.

Read the plan in full here.

In other news around community services, in February we reported that a series of pilot projects have been launched in Buckinghamshire to support community diagnostic centre care pathways; and in January, we hosted health tech professions for a panel discussion on delivering innovative new models in community healthcare.