IT patient data to aid UK's 2011 census

Data on health conditions and treatments made available by IT could render sections of the U.K.'s population census obsolete by 2011.

Data on health conditions and treatments made available by the £6.2 billion (US$11.4 billion) modernization of the NHS IT systems could render sections of the U.K.'s population census obsolete by 2011.

The National Programme for IT (NPfIT) in the NHS--now called Connecting for Health--is one of several alternative sources of data which could reduce the amount of information that is normally collected every decade by the census, according to a new consultation document issued by the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

The ONS said it hopes to increase census responses from households and individuals by limiting the number of questions and using alternative data sources to make the questionnaire less complex.

The consultation document said: "A number of data sources exist, or are likely to exist in 2011, that may provide an alternative source for data that previously have only been available from the census. The availability of alternative sources will be central to determining the content of the 2011 census questionnaires."

The ONS claims data from the NHS IT systems could provide details on individual health, disability and carer information.

The document also looks at which questions will be included on the census questionnaire that will be sent to households across the UK in 2011. One topic unlikely to make it is Internet access.

The level of internet access in households across the country can be an indicator of social exclusion but the ONS said the potential for rapid change in this area and the availability of alternative sources of information from surveys renders it inappropriate for inclusion in the census questionnaire.

Responses can be made to the ONS consultation document until 5 August 2005.

Silicon.com's Andy McCue reported from London.