The usefulness of administrative data in the research of migrant health

  • Kishan Patel

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


Increasingly, migrants and health are major international concerns and an important area of study within public health. The recent increase in rates of migration and the vast differences between demographic and socioeconomic characteristics of most migrant groups compared to settled populations are known to be some of the main reasons for the increasing need to focus research efforts on migrant health. However, despite the increasing availability of accessible national datasets, very few register-based studies have been conducted in the UK, especially when compared to other regions in Europe (most notably the Nordic countries), and worldwide. This thesis aimed to evaluate the usefulness of administrative data in the research of migrant health.

A scoping review of the literature revealed that migrants were less likely to utilise mental healthcare services and access psychotropic prescription medication than the settled majority population in their new countries. In addition, mental ill-health prevalence and suicide rates were higher amongst the migrant population. The advantages and disadvantages of using administrative data in migrant mental health research are discussed, as informed by the studies included in the review.

In order to profile the migrant population of Northern Ireland, and to investigate the mental health of the migrant population as compared to the settled majority population, records from the 2011 Census of Northern Ireland were linked to psychotropic prescribing information from the Enhanced Prescribing Database. Migrants were significantly less likely to report poor mental health than the settled population of Northern Ireland, when adjusted for demographic characteristics, socioeconomic factors, and reported poor physical health. Migrants were also significantly less likely to use any form of psychotropic prescription medication than the settled population.

A further study was conducted in Finland. The National Finish Population Register was linked with the Finish National Death Register in order to compare the mortality risk of migrant groups in Finland with the settled Finnish majority population. Results showed that particularly low-income migrants seem to display a survival advantage compared with the corresponding income group in the settled majority population.

The thesis uses administrative data from two European countries to assess migrant health. It also appraises the administrative data available in both countries. With increasing rates of world-wide migration, and increasing awareness of mental health difficulties, this thesis should be of particular interest to policy makers; the findings could help guide improvements in the way that administrative data is collected to better encapsulate migrant populations.
Date of AwardJul 2020
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Queen's University Belfast
SponsorsNorthern Ireland Department for the Economy
SupervisorDermot O'Reilly (Supervisor) & Anne Kouvonen (Supervisor)


  • migration
  • administrative data
  • health data
  • mental health
  • record-linkage

Cite this