Mary E Black: Save our national statistics

maryeblack copyThat old chestnut about “lies, damned lies and statistics” always raises a laugh. But something is about to happen that is not funny at all.

The Office for National Statistics has published a consultation on proposals to STOP producing a wide range of statistics related to health and health inequalities.

This is an important issue for public health (particularly relating to England and Wales). If cuts go ahead as planned then:

  • Directors of public health will struggle to perform their statutory duty to provide an annual report on the health of the local population.
  • Health and Wellbeing Boards will lack some essential data for Joint Strategic Needs Assessments. These are the cornerstones for commissioning of acute health sector and community services.
  • Most of the national public health outcomes framework would not be measurable.
  • This would impact on the ability to track progress on public health – which also affects proposed plans for payment of the health premium incentive to local authorities (or has that already died a death?).

Only point four in the list above actually refers to budgets and money, which is perhaps the only thing that might cause a tired eyebrow to lift these days. Population data is something that most people think is a big snore. But this stuff matters, folks. We are drowning in poor data and rather limited in the good, reliable stuff. We need evidence for our arguments. And finally – what kind of society do we live in when lots of money is spent on silly stuff. I suspect that the national budget on expensive and vastly over-rated consultants who sell us snake oil solutions for our health system woes vastly outweighs the rather poor investment we make in solid data collection.

If this was anything else the affected stakeholders would be tying themselves to railings and selling horror stories to the press about what this will mean for the health and wellbeing of the nation. This will not happen as statistical bods and epidemiologists tend to be modest types who like number crunching rather than making a fuss.

So go on folks. Let rip. Fill in that survey with gusto and make every box count. Closing date 31.10.13:

Mary E Black is a director of public health in London. Twitter:@DrMaryBlack