National Cost Collection window confirmed

by Steve Brown

21 May 2020

This year’s collection windows for the National Cost Collection have now been confirmed for the autumn and start of next year.

The original June collection deadline was postponed early in April in response to the pressures introduced by Covid-19 and the service’s response to the virus. Following a survey of NHS organisations and system suppliers, NHS England and NHS Improvement have now announced that acute and community providers will submit costs between 7 September and 6 November. The submission window for ambulance, IAPT and mental health services will open for three weeks in January (from 11-29 January).Tablet graph - landscape

According to the survey, this reflects the most popular collection window for acute providers, 40% of which chose this period from the four options offered. However, it reflects the second preference for ambulance and mental health providers. In the survey 46% of ambulance and mental health providers selected a November option with just 33% selecting January. 

NHS England and NHS Improvement head of costing Candice Goold told a webinar organised this week to announce the decision that trusts’ preferences had a major influence. However, they were not the only consideration. ‘The date needed to be suitable for all parties including suppliers and our partner NHS Digital,’ she said.

She said the final choice met providers’ first or second choice preferences, avoided any planned maintenance periods scheduled by NHS Digital, helped suppliers by allowing an eight-week break between the two mandated collections and would provide more time for costing requirements to be met.

Crucially this would also help trusts where costing practitioners have been redeployed on to more urgent activities as a result of the Covid-19 response. The survey showed that 109 out of 201 people responding had seen cost staff redeployed part- or full-time.

There will be no resubmission window. ‘[However] we have worked with NHS Digital and are developing live reporting so we can make data quality updates throughout the window with your help,’ Ms Goold said.

Trusts will be invited to select a slot for submission, which will be allocated on a first-come-first-served basis, with the booking page going live on 26 May. Ms Goold added that the various supporting tools – such as the data validation tool – and templates will be ready well in advance of the submission window so that trusts can prepare files earlier if they wish ready for later submission.

The costing approach will also be amended to take account of the Covid-19 outbreak, with trusts incurring Covid-specific costs in February and March and winding down elective and other activity in preparation for a surge in coronavirus demand. A number of options were considered from including all Covid-19 costs through to ignoring costs in the final quarter or final month. Instead providers are being asked to remove Covid-19 reported costs and to adjust for staff in areas where activity has reduced.

The central costing team said it was aware of potential limitations with this approach, such as the under-costing of Covid-19 patients. But it said it would enable reconciliation to final accounts and also enable Covid-19 costs to be reconciled to the central submissions made for additional funding during the outbreak.

The 2019/20 collection marks the second mandatory collection of costs at the patient level for acute trusts. However mental health trusts and ambulance trusts are also due to make their first mandatory patient-level submission this year, following centrally developed standards and guidance. Mental health trusts in particular are concerned about their ability to meet the requirements.

Some finance managers remain unconvinced about the value of any costing data produced in such extraordinary circumstances. Although the costing data has traditionally been fundamental to setting national tariffs, the service is now moving away from the use of contracts based on activity at national prices. And they argue that the data produced in both 2019/20 and 2020/21 will not be useful for comparing with costs in different years because of the significant impact of Covid-19.