Routinely collected English birth data sets: Comparisons and recommendations for reproductive epidemiology

Rebecca E. Ghosh, Danielle C. Ashworth, Anna L. Hansell, Kevin Garwood, Paul Elliott, Mireille B. Toledano*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Citations (Scopus)


Background In England there are four national routinely collected data sets on births: Office for National Statistics (ONS) births based on birth registrations; Hospital Episode Statistics (HES) deliveries (mothers' information); HES births (babies' information); and NHS Numbers for Babies (NN4B) based on ONS births plus gestational age and ethnicity information. This study describes and compares these data, with the aim of recommending the most appropriate data set(s) for use in epidemiological research and surveillance. Methods We assessed the completeness and quality of the data sets in relation to use in epidemiological research and surveillance and produced detailed descriptive statistics on common reproductive outcomes for each data set including temporal and spatial trends. Results ONS births is a high quality complete data set but lacks interpretive and clinical information. HES deliveries showed good agreement with ONS births but HES births showed larger amounts of missing or unavailable data. Both HES data sets had improved quality from 2003 onwards, but showed some local spatial variability. NN4B showed excellent agreement with ONS and HES deliveries for the years available (2006-2010). Annual number of births increased by 17.6% comparing 2002 with 2010 (ONS births). Approximately 6% of births were of low birth weight (2.6% term low birth weight) and 0.5% were stillbirths. Conclusions Routinely collected data on births provide a valuable resource for researchers. ONS and NN4B offer the most complete and accurate record of births. Where more detailed clinical information is required, HES deliveries offers a high quality data set that captures the majority of English births.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)F451-F457
JournalArchives of Disease in Childhood: Fetal and Neonatal Edition
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sep 2016
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The work of the UK Small Area Health Statistics Unit is funded by Public Health England as part of the MRC-PHE Centre for Environment and Health, funded also by the UK Medical Research Council. Grant number: MR/L01341X/1. PE is an NIHR Senior Investigator and is supported by the MRC-PHE Centre for Environment and Health, the Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust, the NIHR Imperial College Biomedical Research Centre, and the NIHR Health Protection Research Unit on Health Impact of Environmental Hazards.

Publisher Copyright:
© Published by the BMJ Publishing Group Limited.


  • Data Collection
  • Epidemiology
  • Statistics


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