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Using small area data for local planning on the health of children


Over the years, we in PHE have had many requests for data for small geographical areas, particularly for electoral wards.

Through our work leading the National Child and Maternal (ChiMat) Health Intelligence Network we have seen that while those working a local level are keen to look at the health data for the child population overall, they would also like to be able to break this down further and examine the differences which exist within their local area.

Understanding the picture at ward level offers opportunities to target resources effectively based on evidence of where they are likely to have the most impact to improve the health of children, young people and families and to reduce inequalities.

Until now we have struggled to make data for small geographical areas available but using new software such as PHE’s Local Health and GP Practice Profiles, we are really pleased to be in a position to increase what we publish.

Key indicators for the best start in life
We have a number of tools available already which help local areas when they are planning public health services for children who are aged 0 to 5 years old.

Last summer, for instance, we published early years profiles which show all local councils how they compare with the average for England, making it easy for them to identify areas for improvement.

In addition, the profiles give trend information so that a council can see whether they have made an improvement since 2010 on key issues for this age group such as breastfeeding, obesity and injuries.

We also published an early years report for each council which gives more background to the profiles and help with interpreting the data.

Alongside these existing tools, we now have estimated data for electoral wards for some of the key indicators such as teenage mothers, hospital admissions as an emergency in under 5s and A&E attendances.

At a time when local councils are readying themselves for 1 October 2015 when they take over responsibility from NHS England for planning and paying for public health services for babies and children up to 5 years old, this data is particularly timely.

We hope that using these tools together, councils can build a clear picture of the issues on which they need to focus to give their children the best start in life.

To improve child health in a local area, the NHS and local government need to work together. Data is also available in the GP Practice Profiles for child health so the NHS can see how clinical commissioning groups and individual practices are doing for similar indicators to some of those which are now available in Local Health.

Understanding the limitations
While the addition of this new data marks a step forward in the information we can make available, there are still limitations on what we can publish publicly.

Many of the datasets we use have restrictions placed on them to make sure that we maintain the privacy of individuals. For larger geographical areas such as councils, this doesn’t often present a problem because the numbers involved mean that the data remains anonymous.

The same, however, cannot always be said when we come to look at data for smaller geographical areas. Where very small numbers are involved we will often choose not to publish a value for a local area to make sure that there is no risk of divulging information which could be used to identify an individual.

We plan to make other indicators available at electoral ward level over the coming year as part of developing other projects and we'd be pleased to hear suggestions from local areas about data they would value having access to at an electoral ward level.

Getting help to make sense of the data
We realise that it can sometimes seem complicated for local councils and clinical commissioning groups to understand what data is and isn’t available as well as how to make best us of what there is. For this reason, we have local specialists in child health data around the country as part of the knowledge and intelligence service who can work with local teams to access and make sense of data.

You can also sign up to receive our Child and Maternal Health Knowledge Update each week. You can use these not only to keep you up to date with the latest news from us and other organisations as well as events, policy reports, research and other resources relating to children's, young people's and maternal health.

We hope that by using this family of resources alongside the many other PHE data and tools which are available, local areas can gain new insights into what is happening in their local neighbourhoods.

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