Summary of Evaluation of the Health Statistics Program
(2011/2012 to 2015/2016)


Statistics Canada’s Health Statistics Program (HSP) is mandated to provide accurate, timely and relevant information about the health of Canadians and their use of health care services.

The Evaluation and Professional Practices Division of Statistics Canada’s Audit and Evaluation Branch conducted an independent evaluation of the HSP. The evaluation was designed and conducted in accordance with the Treasury Board of Canada’s Policy on Evaluation (2009) and the related directives and standards.

According to the evaluation, there is a continued need for the Health Statistics Program. From 2011 to 2015, the Government of Canada identified the health and well-being of Canadians as a priority in its budgets. The HSP’s activities are aligned with the government’s most pressing needs and priorities for health information.

The HSP generally meets the information needs and priorities within its budget. The program generated the expected outcomes: providing access to high-quality, relevant statistical information to support public debate, decision making and research.

The Health Statistics Program must nonetheless focus on needs analysis rather than capacity and address the issue of declining survey response rates in order to maintain its relevance in the future.

The evaluation proposed two recommendations to improve the HSP.

Recommendation 1:

Within the context of the relationship with provincial and territorial data providers, it is recommended that the Health Statistics Program take measures to improve the timeliness of the vital and cancer statistical information in order to meet target release dates and fulfill its mandate.

Management response

Management acknowledges that there have been issues of timeliness with the cancer and vital statistics programs, which are based on administrative records from provinces and territories.

Cancer Statistics

With the release of Cancer 2014 in February 2017, the Cancer Statistics Program will have returned to a regular release schedule that is as timely as possible in the context of the provision of data from provincial and territorial partners. Partners have indicated that a more ambitious schedule is not possible for them. Two provinces have indicated that they will not be able to provide 2015 data within the original proposed schedule. Management is establishing strategies to deal with missing or incomplete data submissions from the provinces and territories which could include publishing data for only the responding partners.

Vital Statistics

The backlog in the release of vital statistics will be cleared in 2017 with a return to timely releases in 2018. From 2018 onwards, vital statistics will be released 10 to 11 months after the end of the reference period. Not only does this mean that the program has recovered from the processing delays but this will be a significant improvement over past timelines where releases were 18-24 months following the reference year.

A processing backlog was incurred due to difficulties experienced by transitioning administrative data to the generic social surveys processing system (SSPE). This proved very problematic given that the SSPE was not built for administrative data and alternative processing approaches had to be developed to ensure more timely processing.

In addition, the National Routing System (NRS) is almost completely implemented with a potential to deliver the count of events on an on-going and almost real-time fashion. The more complex information, such as causes of death and particularly those that require coroners’ investigations, are not always available in near real-time.

Cause of death data are coded at Statistics Canada for all provinces and territories except Ontario, British Columbia, and Québec. Death and Cause of Death data releases are dependent on the availability of the coded cause of death data from these 3 jurisdictions. There is currently a lag in the availability of cause of death data from Ontario and Quebec which may affect our ability to release the data according to the schedule.

In 2017, the vital statistics agreements will be signed and the NRS will be put in place for all remaining provinces and territories.

Recommendation 2:

It is recommended that the Health Statistics Program work with its federal partners to improve the partnership approach. Particularly, this includes engaging with partners to review the current governance structure with respect to roles and responsibilities, the decision-making process, communications and expectations for data sharing.

Management response

A renewed governance is being developed for the health statistics program.

Together Statistics Canada, HC and PHAC form the Canadian Population Health Statistics Program (CPHSP) which governs the Canadian Community Health Survey, including the focus content, and the Canadian Health Measures Survey. At the December 2016 meeting of the CPHSP Steering Committee, the Assistant Deputy Ministers agreed to modernize the CPHSP Interdepartmental Letter of Agreement and to revise the governance structure.  An initial meeting at the Director General level was held on January 11, 2017, to start moving towards these goals.

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