Objectives: The objectives of this study were to describe the methods used to assess the quality of linkage between records of babies' birth registration and hospital birth records, and to evaluate the potential bias that may be introduced because of these methods.
Design/setting: Data from the civil registration and the notification of births previously linked by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) had been further linked to birth records from the Hospital Episode Statistics (HES) for babies born in England. We developed a deterministic, six-stage algorithm to assess the quality of this linkage.
Participants: All 1 170 790 live, singleton births, occurring in National Health Service hospitals in England between 1 January 2005 and 31 December 2006.
Primary outcome measure: The primary outcome was the number of successful links between ONS birth records and HES birth records. Rates of successful linkage were calculated for the cohort and the characteristics associated with unsuccessful linkage were identified.
Results: Approximately 92% (1 074 572) of the birth registration records were successfully linked with a HES birth record. Data quality and completeness were somewhat poorer in HES birth records compared with linked birth registration and birth notification records. The quality assurance algorithms identified 1456 incorrect linkages (<1%). Compared with the linked dataset, birth records were more likely to be unlinked if babies were of white ethnic origin; born to unmarried mothers; born in East England, London, North West England or the West Midlands; or born in March.
Conclusions: It is possible to link administrative datasets to create large cohorts, allowing researchers to explore important questions about exposures and childhood outcomes. Missing data, coding errors and inconsistencies mean it is important that the quality of linkage is assessed prior to analysis.
Keywords: births; data-linkage; hospital episode statistics; hospital records.
© Author(s) (or their employer(s)) 2020. Re-use permitted under CC BY. Published by BMJ.