Shortcomings in the HSE's administration of a core hospital data collection system have been identified by the State's health services watchdog.
The Health Information and Quality Authority (Hiqa) said a lack of “appropriate governance” of the Hospital In-Patient Enquiry Scheme (HIPE) might affect its healthcare planning and funding role.
HIPE is the principal source of information on all inpatient and day case discharges from publicly funded acute hospitals.
It is an extremely important indicator of hospital activity because it identifies the demand for services in each hospital and the hospital's capacity to treat patients.
Over €5bn was allocated as the budget for the acute hospital division this year.
HIPE was transferred from the Economic and Social Research Institute to the HSE in 2014.
“The review found shortcomings in governance structures at HIPE that have the potential to impact on its crucial role of healthcare planning and funding,” said Rachel Flynn, Hiqa's director of health information and standards.
“To ensure that HIPE can fulfil its essential role, it is important that the HSE implements the nine recommendations made by Hiqa today," she said.
In particular, the review found there were no national oversight structures and arrangements in place for the governance, leadership and management at a senior level within the HSE.
It recommends assigning an individual with overall responsibility for information governance.
While some improvements had been made in the areas of data quality and clinical coding in recent years, approaches to solving overall information management issues had not developed.
Responding, the HSE said they knew that had to make further progress in a number of areas and that it had commenced work on establishing a HIPE governance group, recommended by the review.
Hiqa said the flow of HIPE data should be seen as one continuous process that started at the clinical stage and ended when it was ready for use by key stakeholders to inform decision making.
The review was undertaken to assess compliance with information management standards published by Hiqa in March last year.
“Complying with the information management standards will improve the quality of national health information and data, which will ultimately contribute to the delivery of safe and reliable health and social care data in Ireland,” said Ms Flynn.
Hiqa said assurances should be provided about the quality of data so that everyone could have confidence that decisions were made based on the high-quality information.
Also, the information should be more accessible and available in a timely manner to patients, clinicians, managers, policy makers and researchers, in order to access their needs.
The HIPE data, which is managed by the Healthcare Pricing Office in the HSE, is automatically changed when transmitted to remove patient names and medical card numbers and to encrypt consultant codes.