New NIHR-funded project explores how administrative data can be used to improve health in Scotland

A new project led by Dr Emily Tweed and Prof Peter Craig will explore cross-sectoral administrative data and linkage with a focus on socioeconomic and other inequalities, intending to address barriers to, and strengthen, the use of such data in public health practice and research.

‘Administrative data’ refers to information collected by organisations like the NHS and local authorities as part of how they deliver services: although these data weren’t originally produced for research, they are very useful for this purpose because the same information is collected on everyone over a long time and they can tell us how things work in the real world.

The 9-month project, Unlocking data to inform public health policy and practice: decision-maker perspectives on the use of cross-sectoral data as part of a whole-systems approach, was awarded over £140,000 through NIHR’s Public Health Research Programme.

The project team will work collaboratively with stakeholders from local authorities, NHS local and national public health teams, Scottish Government and third sector to identify practical and effective ways that administrative data can be used to support the implementation of a whole-systems approach to public health in Scotland, using learning from real-world projects through case studies and datasets.

The project consists of three workstreams:

  • A scoping review to identify potential attributes of secondary data systems and participatory workshops to review and prioritise these according to the needs of decision-makers in local and national public health teams, government, and the third sector.
  • A collation of three case studies of using cross-sectoral data for public health research. These will facilitate detailed and constructive conversations with stakeholders on the value, barriers, and enablers of such projects.
  • The identification of a consensus set of recommendations for develop and maintain secondary data systems capable of supporting a whole-systems approach to healthy public policy at the local and national levels.

Dr Tweed said: “This collaborative project will allow us to work together with a wide range of individuals and organisations with a role in creating a healthy society, in order to understand how we can better use routinely available data from beyond the healthcare system to improve health and reduce inequalities”.  

First published: 8 April 2021

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