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Health Survey for England; Health, social care and lifestyles

What is the survey?

The Health Survey for England (HSE) is an important annual survey looking at changes in the health and lifestyles of people all over the country.

Around 8,000 adults and 2,000 children take part in the survey each year. Information is collected through an interview, and if participants agree, a visit from a specially trained nurse.

The surveys, which have been carried out since 1991, provide regular information that cannot be obtained from other sources.

Further information on the study

Why are we doing this survey?

Most of us rely on public health services and the data collected by the Health Survey for England provides vital information which is used by central government (e.g. the Department of Health and Public Health England) and local government for a range of different purposes, including:

  • monitoring changes in health and lifestyles
  • monitoring the prevalence of specific health conditions
  • planning services
  • policy development
  • monitoring and evaluating policy

Local authorities also use the survey to compare local indicators with national figures.

Other organisations using the HSE are too many to list but include NHS England and other NHS bodies, charities and voluntary organisations. The survey is also widely used by Universities for education, research and analysis purposes.

Some specific examples of how information from the Health Survey for England has been used include:

  • HSE found that lots of older people weren't aware that they had kidney disease and that levels of undiagnosed kidney disease are significantly higher than the official diagnosed levels. This issue, highlighted to government, inspired action to tackle the problem.
  • HSE is used to measure how many people are reaching the '5-a-day' government target on fruit and vegetable consumption.
  • HSE found that many people didn't know they had high blood pressure which can cause serious health problems. Doctors now check blood pressure more regularly.
  • Data from the survey are used as a component in the formula allocating public health grants from the Department of Health to local authorities.

Who is doing the survey?

The survey is being carried out by NatCen Social Research on behalf of NHS Digital.

Who has reviewed this survey?

The HSE surveys are reviewed each year by an independent group of people called a Research Ethics Committee, to protect the safety, rights, wellbeing and dignity of those taking part. The HSE survey for 2016 has been given a favourable opinion by the East Midlands Nottingham 2 Research Ethics Committee (Reference no 15/EM/0254)

How do you choose who takes part?

Addresses are chosen at random which means that every address in England has an equal chance of being included in the survey. This ensures that we get a truly representative picture of people living in private households in England.

What does taking part in survey involve?

If you have received a letter asking you to take part, one of NatCen's interviewers will soon call at your home to arrange an interview at a time that suits you. The interview itself is really relaxed - there's nothing to prepare and you can skip any questions you do not want to answer.

What data items are collected?

The survey includes questions on your physical health, your mental health and wellbeing, social care, lifestyle behaviours, and physical measures such as your height, weight and blood pressure.


What happens to the answers?

The answers from the questionnaire are put together with the answers collected from thousands of other people across England and the survey findings are published in a report and tables which are freely available on the NHS Digital website (Health Survey for England). The findings will not identify anyone who took part in the survey. 

What happens to the survey data?

Data collected by the Health Survey for England will be held by the contractor undertaking this research (NatCen Social Research) and by NHS Digital (the national provider of information, data and IT systems for health and social care

The data will never be presented in a form that can reveal any personal information that could be used to identify individuals. An anonymised copy of the dataset (that does not identify individuals) will be made available on the UK Data Service catalogue for the purposes of not-for-profit research, teaching or personal educational development. The UK Data Service is home to the UK's largest collection of digital social and economic research data. The data made available by the UK Data Service is subject to the NHS anonymisation standard.

NHS Digital may also share more detailed data with approved researchers under a Data Sharing Agreement, following NHS Digital's independent scrutiny process for external data releases. However, it is important to stress that any information from the survey that is used by other researchers will not enable individuals to be identified and will be used for statistical and research purposes only.

Latest findings and report

The latest Health Survey for England report and key findings are available in the NHS Digital publication catalogue.

Health Survey for England, 2015 - Survey Dataset

NHS Digital understands the importance of the survey dataset for research purposes and  is currently reviewing dissemination options to ensure the data can be made available for this purpose whilst ensuring respondent confidentiality is protected. We recognise the high level of interest in the survey dataset and are working to try and ensure dissemination arrangements are put in place at the earliest opportunity.

NHS Digital has recently reviewed how we manage access to survey datasets.  In doing this we have sought to strike a balance between protecting the privacy of individuals and enabling maximum use to be made of these valuable, publically funded datasets.  There has been a thorough review of disclosure control measures, including taking advice from experts at the Office of National Statistics.  Additional disclosure control measures are being applied to enable the dataset to be made available through the UK Data Service.  We hope to make the 2015 dataset available by December 2017.

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