Sarah Brooks, Manager - Data Analytics

How Ease of Access to HES Data Benefits HCPs & Key NHS Stakeholders

Insights category icon Insights

by Sarah | 27 Aug Read Time4 min

About the author: Sarah Brooks, Manager - Data Analytics, has a broad experience of the Pharma industry and has seen it from various angles, including working with and as an Account Manager in a well-known creative agency. At the start of her career, following her graduation from the University of Leeds, she worked at Digital Public on the Commissioning Support Programme for the Department for Children, Schools and Families.


Patient data from hospitals is incredibly valuable to the NHS and other healthcare providers, not to mention pharmaceutical brands.

In the UK, Hospital Episode Statistics (HES) data provides some of the most compelling data and can be used for a variety of purposes, but principally to improve health outcomes. 

How is HES data collected?

NHS Digital collects the HES data, which is a record of all hospital activity in England – comprising inpatient, outpatient and A&E data. HES data records approximately 16 million episodes of care each year.

The HES database ensures commissioners, analysts, clinicians and NHS staff have access to patient-specific data, helping them improve the quality and efficiency of patient care. The data is also used for statistical analysis and making sure providers are accurately reimbursed for the care they have provided. 

Because HES records every ‘episode’ of patient care, it can help identify when a patient has had more than one episode of care during a single stay in hospital, as well as which consultant/specialism has provided this care. It also captures information relating to co-morbidities, length of stay and any procedures a patient has undergone whilst admitted, as well as any treatment provided by a private provider under contract, outpatient or emergency care encounters.  

How does the NHS ensure the quality of data? 

Data quality and accuracy is crucial, especially when it comes to healthcare. As NHS England states in its data quality guidance:

“High quality information leads to improved decision making, which in turn results in better patient care, wellbeing and safety. There are potentially serious consequences if information is not correct, secure and up to date.”

NHS Digital uses six key characteristics to measure the quality of healthcare data:

1. Coverage – has data been received from all expected data suppliers?

2. Completeness – does the data include all the expected values?

3. Validity – does the data collected satisfy the standards and business rules governing the permitted formats and values for each individual field in a dataset?

4. Default – to what extent have the default values specified in applicable standards and business been used in the data collected?

5. Integrity – does the data satisfy the set of business rules that govern the relationships between fields, records and data assets?

6. Timeliness – this reports the time between data recording and delivery of the product using the data. It must be reported at the supply, processing and product delivery stage. 

New standards of data quality

In October 2018, the Department of Health & Social Care published its Vision for Technology, which laid out plans to ensure:

  • Truly joined-up health and care, designed around the needs of patients and their care networks, where we integrate physical and digital services, and achieve better, safer, more targeted care
  • A safe and secure data infrastructure that protects the health and care system and patients
  • Local organisations are able to make the right technology choices for their own area, while also maintaining high quality systems than can communicate across the entire NHS

Central to this vision was a new framework setting out the core standards on technology and data by which all IT systems and digital services in the NHS must abide.

The aim is to create a joined-up system which provides safe, efficient and cost-effective infrastructures that connect all aspects of patient care, thus delivering better outcomes for patients and the NHS. 

However, with cost pressures making it harder for the NHS to access and analyse its own data, there is also an opportunity for pharmaceutical companies to interrogate this data on behalf of the NHS via platforms such as Meditrends, and share it with NHS treatment providers and other HCPs. 

The opportunities within NHS data 

HES data is collected primarily for Payment by Results (PbR), but the wealth of diagnostic and outcomes information captured provides powerful support for NHS commissioners and planners, helping them to commission and plan new services and resources. 

NHS organisations are unable to make significant improvements to their services without a detailed knowledge and understanding of how they are currently performing, and where problems and inefficiencies exist. Solutions such as Meditrends provide these insights, enabling organisations to benchmark their services against other parts of the NHS.  

HES data provides insights on everything from disease burden and health outcomes to the geographic distribution and characteristics of patients. In turn, this can help HCPs understand patient pathways, the impact of certain treatments, and how different diseases affect patients within different cohorts.

Please contact Sarah Brooks if you are interested in finding out more about HES data.