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NHS Estates Return Information Collection (ERIC), Improved Accuracy, Transparency and Easier to Complete

February 10, 2021

Well, the 2019/2020 ERIC (Estates Return Information Collection) report is now published and available for viewing online. In the data quality report a comprehensive overview of NHS estate for England is presented. It highlights a number of issues. The Estates Return contains data relating to the costs of providing, maintaining, and servicing the NHS estate, used in the delivery of secondary care and ambulance services. It provides essential information relating to the safety, quality, running costs and activity related to NHS estates. The information is used by the Department of Health and Social Care, other Government departments and regulators among others. It has also been an important component in reports such as those by Naylor and Carter. This is the most comprehensive overview of NHS estate data available, and is quite an achievement.

Let us consider an overview of the data, to demonstrate how comprehensive it is, after all of the hard work estate and facilities professionals within the NHS have contributed.

The total estate running costs were £9.7 billion. This was just a slight increase on the previous reporting period, up from £9.5 billion. One highly noticeable increase is the backlog maintenance which has risen from £6.5 billion in 2018/19 to £9 billion in 2019/20. It doesn’t take a great mathematician to calculate that this is a rise of over 38% for this 12-month period. It will be interesting to see what the backlog maintenance will increase to, for 2020/21, in the wake of the pandemic crisis.

Compiling such data from over 224 Trusts all using different methods of calculation, storage and collection is a considerable task. This then has to be compiled into a common format so that the information can be presented in a useful structure to policymakers and interested parties. This presents a challenge for a number of reasons, as an example:

  • Changes in reporting requirements, as NHS E&I modify data needs.
  • Lack of transparency at local Trust level that makes gathering and interpreting data into a standard format more of an artform than a science.

The lack of transparency in local data also contributes to difficulty for administration teams, as they cannot easily identify data inconsistencies. When you are dealing with such a breadth of information, all being supplied in different formats, all being calculated in various ways, how do you manually by eye, try and consolidate this into a meaningful, accurate single data source, for uploading to NHS Digital?

Once this process has been completed, and your return submitted, your stress isn’t over. NHS Digital will try and resolve your submission into their system. This in-turn will throw up anomalies. This is where any inaccuracies in your data will become visible. Some of this will be because of errors between the current submission and the previous year’s return. It may be a miscalculation error, or it may be due to changes in ERIC reporting definitions, and the questions subsequently being inaccurately resolved. Whatever the reason, once errors are resolved or answered, and your data is validated it will form a component in the overall report.

Because of the work involved and the need for improved accuracy and transparency of data. QTS, a wholly owned subsidiary of Central and North West London NHS Foundation Trust (CNWL) entered into collaboration with EventMAP, to produce an automated solution to handle the submission process more effectively. Both CNWL and East London NHS Foundation Trust (ELFT) used the solution to submit their returns for the 2019/20 reporting period. Both have commented on the value of having a solution to simplify and improve the accuracy and transparency of the process. It has helped them identify anomalies in their data, and has also allowed them to improve the accuracy of their reporting, compared to data over previous years. There is no doubt that they have found the solution a great help in improving the quality of their submission for NHS Digital, and also for use locally, as it gives a clearer picture of the way they use their own estate. Even the process of validating data after it is compiled is simplified, as it is easy to identify any suggested inconsistencies and either make amendments or provide explanations.

One major advantage moving forward to such a solution, is that it enables Trusts to get their data in a consistent format, which can be automatically uploaded into NHS Digital, and easily maintained in that format, so future submissions will be even simpler. Combine this with the fact that the ERIC Automated Solution is automatically updated with any changes to the data definitions required by NHS Digital, it makes resolving changes in reporting criteria easier.

It has been so successful in reducing the burden of submitting the ERIC that the CFO of CNWL was moved to confirm: “The ERIC Automation Solution created with the help of EventMAP has significantly reduced the time we spent creating our ERIC return. The administrative burden of collating all of the data has also become so much simpler. This solution is exactly what we need, and been waiting for.”

What more can we add? Other than to say, if you would like to know more about the ERIC Automation Solution complete the form located here.

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