The Department for Health have released a paper which starts to sketch a public health surveillance strategy for England.
Dry stuff perhaps, but it is likely that the data that is available to Directors of Public Health and Health and Wellbeing Boards will drive their decisions about where to invest, and (if I’m reading the paper correctly) will give some indication of whether the interventions they commission are leading to the changes they expect.
Secondary uses of surveillance data will include burden of disease analyses and intervention impact assessments based on the synthesis of data from multiple sources.
The paper points out the use of data to determine where to put resources already happens, for example:
Monitoring the use of new drugs within the population that seek treatment so that the dangers associated with new and emerging drugs are better understood has not only provided an early warning mechanism for new threats, but has also been helpful in establishing that some new drugs (methamphetamine) are not spreading as quickly, or causing the harms as was once feared.
It seems to me that if data is going to be as critical as the paper suggests in helping shape the sorts of services available on the ground then what is measured could be of real importance to those of us trying to enhance preventative services.
If all the data on drug and alcohol misuse comes from those entering hospitals or treatment services will that encourage investment which is focused on improving outcomes for those individuals, or will it lead to interventions that are further up-stream?
For me this is why the promised children and young people’s health outcomes framework and strategy from the Department of Health could be critical. The Independent Forum who were commissioned to look at these things by the Secretary of State made a set of recommendations in July last year which if acted on will make sure that local commissioners have data on the prevalence of drinking, smoking and drug use at the age of 15 for their areas.