NHS Digitals mental health data - overview

NHS Digital is the national information and technology partner to the health and social care system in England. We produce and manage information systems and statistics for the NHS.

Mental Health is a high priority for the UK government, with more and more focus on parity of esteem; that is, equally valuing mental and physical health care. Over the last decade NHS Digital has been working hard to develop, maintain and enhance information systems that can be used to inform policy and the public debate about the effectiveness of mental health interventions across England. These information systems capture granular, referral-level information from providers of NHS-funded mental health care.

  • Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) is an NHS programme in England that offers interventions approved by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) for treating people with depression or anxiety, supported by the IAPT dataset.
  • The Mental Health Services Dataset (MHSDS) captures information about referrals for secondary mental health, learning disabilities and autism care.

The information contained in these datasets is captured by the local services delivering that care to patients, through a Patient Administration System (PAS), to NHS Digital. Once received, the data is 'pseudonymised' (meaning fields that would identify an individual patient are replaced with pseudonyms), validated, and transformed into a single, cohesive and longitudinal database that represents all secondary NHS-funded mental health care in England.

The primary purpose for capturing this data is patient care, which is why care providers maintain PASs. However, the data captured can also be analysed by trusted bodies such as NHS Digital to provide insight and inform policy decisions about the most effective way to run such services, improving patients' experience and saving lives. These are the aggregated Official Statistics that NHS Digital make publicly available through our website.

The Mental Health monthly statistics and the IAPT monthly statistics consist of a wide range of measures that aim to inform the wider system about the volume of referrals to mental health services, how long patients wait for this care, and their outcomes. We publish the aggregated data as open data so others can use it and publish dashboards and visualisations to make our data engaging and interactive. We also work hard to ensure that the quality of the data underpinning these measures is as high as possible, to ensure that they are meaningful and representative. We supplement our monthly releases with information about VODIM (the extent to which submitted data is valid, a default value, an invalid value, or a missing value), and our dedicated Data Quality team engage in targeted data quality improvement exercises.

NHS Digital's publications support policymakers, commissioners, and care providers by publishing data that measure specific policies - for example, a move to introduce Internet-Enabled Therapies in the IAPT programme. However, we're aware that the use cases for mental health aggregated statistics go far beyond benchmarking and policy implementation - the range of people interested in these data is vast, and we want to engage all users to ensure that the value of the data is maximised.

This is why we're writing this blog - to ask for your ideas about ways in which our published aggregate data could be improved and expanded, both in terms of form and content. We are also interested in how you have used or might use this open data. We have made the process as open as possible by creating an open Google Doc, where anyone can add their comments and suggestions.

The #OpenDataSavesLives Unconference in September will also be a place to share ideas and stimulate discussion about this and many more digital health topics. Register early to be kept up to date about speakers and the agenda.