The number of outpatient attendances in England is now approaching 100 million each year. In 2017/18, the estimated cost of this care was over £9 billion - or 8% of the total NHS England budget.

Yet there are significant gaps in our knowledge. We don’t know enough about the purpose and function of outpatient appointments. Without this knowledge, the NHS will struggle to ensure that the billions spent on these services are delivering best value for the patient and the public.

So, working for the Midlands Decision Support Network (MDSN), the Strategy Unit has created a new classification system for outpatient activity. This system examines activity from the perspective of function, enabling the data to be used to address real-world strategic questions.

The report differs from our typical contributions. It offers a method, and a rationale for that method, rather than a set of analytical outputs and results. This is because the method lends itself to such a wide variety of questions, no single report could do justice to them all.

So we invite MDSN members - and others across the NHS - to test this method in practice. We hope that they will share - with each other, and with us - the new insights that it provides about this hugely significant area of health service activity.

Classifying outpatient visits by function | Midlands Decision Support Network