public health observatories in the NHS

In Evidence-Based Medicine, Health industry on January 30, 2009 by Alan Lovell Tagged: , , , , , , ,

I’m always interested in the structure of the NHS, as 1) it seems fiendishly complicated with a endless range of overlapping institutes and societies and observatories and groups and hubs etc., and 2) because it never seems to stay the same for five minutes – it is most certainly a moving target. Here’s some brief information I culled about public health observatories, who for one reason or another came to my attention the other day…

There are 12 public health observatories (PHOs) throughout the UK and Ireland represented as a group by The Association of Public Health Observatories (APHO).

East Midlands PHO
Eastern Region PHO
Ireland and Northern Ireland’s Population Health Observatory
London Health Observatory
North East PHO
North West PHO
Scottish PHO
South East PHO
South West PHO
Wales Centre for Health
West Midlands PHO
Yorkshire and Humber PHO

The roles of PHOs include:

1) monitoring trends in health status and disease
2) showing how health inequalities are being tackled
3) assessing the effects of health care interventions, giving Commissioners and service providers the evidence and data they need to reduce inequalities both in access and health outcomes

“PHOs in England are engaged in a wide range of work to support different elements of the commissioning cycle as set out in NHS reform in England. Much of the work of PHOs is relevant to the wider commissioning pathways envisaged in the more recent guidance from DH in A Framework for Commissioning Health and Well-being. The unique contribution of the PHOs is their ability to provide timely, comparative information at a local (PCT/LA) level and at smaller area – including practice level – comparing with regional and national levels. This is a vital element of the picture if we are to ensure effective implementation of evidence-based pathways of intervention and care. Work to support commissioning can be divided into broad categories:

1) regularly updated, comparative indicator sets
2) complex analyses and reports using multiple data sources
3) regional capacity-building work
4) bespoke local analytical work for PCTs, LAs, SHAs, academe and others
5) web tools and signposting of useful resources to support commissioners
6) commissioned work by national and other bodies”

Their prototype commissioning support website can be found at:

Example PHO outputs

PHOs are co-ordinated by the APHO to produce reports of national-level work including:

– Indications reports (where possible to cover the whole of the UK and Ireland)
– Health Profiles (HPs)
– Targeted outputs in support of key policy lead areas (not otherwise covered by the Indications series);

Individual PHOs themselves also support regional commissioning by producing outputs including:

– Website – acting as a portal to other sites and gradually becoming the ‘public health desktop’
– Specific reviews of issues by region, in collaboration with other agencies, including the academic sector
– Joint project work with other regional information providers – e.g. cancer registries, Health Protection Agency
– Project work with NHS commissioning organisations, local authorities and local strategic partnerships
– Needs assessment with local stakeholders
– Responsive work for service commissioners (e.g. using HES data)
– Analysis and reporting of new child height and weight surveillance data
– Analysis and reporting of GP data on lifestyle and health risks;

Comment: The APHO (est. June 2000) and the PHOs themselves are progressively involved in aiding commissioning, but mostly this involves supplying Joint Strategic Needs Assessments (“Joint Strategic Needs Assessment describes a process that identifies current and future health and wellbeing needs in light of existing services, and informs future service planning taking into account evidence of effectiveness”). Most of their work, including their needs assessments, seem to be data reports with little synthesis or analysis.

Coming soon, Quality Observatories


One Response to “public health observatories in the NHS”

  1. Wow–I agree and always feel quite slow for not knowing what all the divisions are, at all times. Bless you for sussing this out!

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