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Diagnostic Imaging Data Set

We collect information about the imaging tests and scans carried out on NHS patients such as x-rays, MRI scans or ultrasound. The information comes to us from radiology departments in NHS hospitals and private providers performing NHS-funded activity.

The information is collected to contribute to work to help understand how outcomes for patients can be improved (such as life expectancy and quality of life), particularly for those with cancer, musculoskeletal disease (conditions that affect the muscles, bones, and joints and neurological conditions (for example stroke, epilepsy, dementia, or multiple sclerosis). Imaging tests and scans are frequently used to contribute to diagnosis. Earlier diagnosis of conditions such as cancer usually leads to better life expectancy and quality of life for patients.

What information is collected?

The information is collected each month from NHS providers and includes information on:

  • Who made the referral (for example a GP or hospital doctor),
  • Which test or scan has been carried out and where on the body (for example x-ray of chest or MRI scan of the brain)
  • Which GP practice the patient is registered with
  • Where the patient came from for imaging (e.g. referred by GP directly, outpatient department, A&E or a patient already being treated in hospital)
  • NHS number
  • Postcode
  • Ethnicity
  • Gender
  • Date of birth
  • Waiting times for each diagnostic imaging event, from time of test request through to time of reporting

For example, Barbara presents to her GP with chest pains; her GP refers her for a chest x-ray. Barbara goes to the hospital for the chest x-ray; following this, the consultant treating her gets a report of her test results which shows that Barbara has the early stages of lung cancer, and starts her treatment plan based on the results.

In the following month the HSCIC receives a record of this imaging activity which contains Barbara's NHS number, postcode, date of birth, gender, ethnicity, a code which identifies the GP practice she is registered with, a code that shows her GP referred her, a code which indicates she had a chest x-ray, dates which show how long she waited for the diagnostic test, and how long her consultant waited to get the report of her test. The HSCIC does not receive any information that would reveal Barbara's name or her full address, the reason she was referred, copies of the images taken, or any information contained in the radiologist report.

How information is used

The NHS number, postcode, data of birth, and gender are used to join up this information about imaging tests with other information about the patient from different parts of the care system; for example, information about stays in hospital to give a better picture of their care, treatment and diagnoses.

This helps the NHS understand more about what has happened to individuals and groups of patients. For example, understanding why Barbara was referred for a chest x-ray and that the x-ray led to a diagnosis of lung cancer. This information about Barbara would be grouped together with information about other patients across the country who all went to their GP with chest pains, had an x-ray within a certain number of weeks, and were diagnosed with early stages of lung cancer. This group can then be compared to another group of patients who also complained of chest pain to their GP but were diagnosed with lung cancer at a later stage, resulting in a shorter lifespan and poorer quality of life. The information can be used to answer questions such as:

  • Was this second group referred for chest x-rays?
  • Did they wait longer for them?
  • Did they have other health complications?
  • Were they being treated in a particular hospital or area of the country etc?

This will help inform the NHS of where services are good and patients are benefiting and where improvements can be made.

The information about imaging tests and scans (known as Diagnostic Imaging) is collected on behalf of NHS England, and they produce statistics in summary form. NHS England does not receive a full copy of the information that the HSCIC collects. They only receive the data they need to create their publications. They do not get access to the information that could identify a patient (e.g. NHS number, date of birth or postcode).

Any organisation wishing to make an application to receive information that we collect in relation to Diagnostic Imaging, or to receive it linked to other healthcare information must do so through our Data Access Request Service (DARS) (redirect). Only those organisations whose request is being made for work to support the provision of health and social care and the promotion of health will be able to receive it. Information cannot be released for solely commercial purposes.

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