In this article:

The National and NSW Minimum Data Sets for Alcohol and other Drug Treatment Services

NMDS and NSW MDS Collection

The National Minimum Data Set (NMDS) and the NSW Minimum Data Set (MDS) for Alcohol and Other Drug Treatment Services (AODTS) consists of a range of items describing administrative, social, demographic, drug-related and service-related information. The data set was developed in conjunction with service providers to ensure data elements are useful to individual Organisations needing consistent, accurately defined information for service development and planning and at a Commonwealth or State level. The unit of measurement for the N/MDS is a Service Episode.

Service Episode is defined as:

  • a treatment process with defined dates of commencement and cessation between a patient/client and a provider or team of providers,

  • provided at the treatment Organisation or one of its service delivery outlets,

  • in which there is no major change in the service delivery setting, main service provided, principal drug of concern

  • where there has been no unplanned interval of contact greater than 3 months.

  • If there is a change in any of these, a new service episode is to be created

 A client may have a number of concurrently open service episodes, each of which requires data collection and reporting.

Closing Service Episodes

A Service Episode will normally be declared ‘closed’ at the Cessation of Service however, when there has been no client contact for a period of one month and there are no plans in place for contact in the future, the Service Episode must be declared ‘closed’. In these circumstances, the Date of Cessation of Service Episode is the date on which the client was last seen (or, in the case of opioid pharmacotherapy treatment clients, the date on which the client was last dosed), not the date the client’s record is updated.

As a general rule, all Service Episodes have a maximum length of 12 months. Exceptions to this are episodes where:

  • the Main Service Provided is ‘Withdrawal management (detoxification)’ − these have a maximum length of 30 days;

  • the Main Service Provided is ‘Consultation Activities’ or ‘Support and case management only’ − these have a maximum length of 12 months;

  • the Main Service Provided is ‘Counselling’ − these are limited to 12 sessions; and

  • the Main Service Provided is ‘Maintenance pharmacotherapy (Opioid)’ or ‘Maintenance pharmacotherapy (Non–Opioid)’ − these can exceed 12 months of continuous service contact.

Data Collection Items

The following specifies the data collection for each data item.

Commencement of Service Episode

These items should be completed on the day of the initial assessment.

Administrative data items Person Identifier (Client Code)
Client data items Date of Birth
Date of Birth Status
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Origin
Country of Birth
Preferred Language
Principal Source of Income
Living Arrangement
Usual Accommodation
Drug use data items Client Type
Principal Drug of Concern/Gambling
Method of Use for Principal Drug of Concern
Other Drugs of Concern/Gambling
Injecting Drug Use
Service data items Service Delivery Setting
Date of Commencement of Service Episode
Postcode of Residence at Commencement of Service Episode
Source of Referral to Service
Previous Services Received
Main Service Provided

During Service Episode

Drug use data items Other Drugs of Concern/Gambling
Previous Services Received
Other Services Provided
Service Contact Dates
Postcode of Service Contact

Cessation of Service Episode

These items should be completed within 3 days of the date of the cessation.

Service data items Date of Cessation of Service Episode
Reason for Cessation of Service Episode
Referral to Another Service

Guidelines for completing the NMDS and NSW MDS

  • Data Dictionary and Collection Guidelines for the NSW MDS for Alcohol Treatment Services (NSW Health, 2015) NSW MDS Data Dictionary

  • Alcohol and Other Drug Treatment Services National Minimum Data Set Data Collection Manual 2017-18 (AIWH 2017) NMDS Data Dictionary


Guideline Requirement
Include all clients who are assessed and/or accepted for one or more types of specialised drug and alcohol service. This can be for their own, or another person’s alcohol/ other drug / gambling problem and includes people who seek advice for information only.
Ensure all data items are completed even if there is a nil response.
Do not leave responses blank.
Where there is a nil response, select or enter the most appropriate response. For example, ‘no other drugs of concern.’
Where a multiple response is required, decide on the five most important responses.There are 6 items in the NSW MDS which may require multiple responses:
Other Drugs of Concern/Gambling
Previous Services Received
Other Services Provided
Service Contact Dates
More than five responses can be submitted but only the first five will be sent to the Commonwealth.
Base all items on the client’s response. The clinician should not guess or assume the client’s response.Wherever possible, direct all questions to the client.
Organisations may develop their own business rules relating to the data collection. In this instance, the key requirement is consistency across all data collected within the Organisation.
Data collection should be completed by a clinician of the organisation and not by a member of the administrative or support staff. The data set pertains largely to clinical information and should therefore be completed by a clinician.
A service episode must not be left open indefinitely. A service episode is normally declared closed at the cessation of the service. 
However, if there has been no client contact for a period of 3 months, and if there are no plans for contact in the future, the service episode must be closed.
Referral is where a client is referred to another external service and/or treatment that is to be provided internally – within the same service Organisation. All referrals are to be treated in the same manner and recorded whether internal or external to the Organisation inputting the data.
Organisations are required to submit a client identifier that is unique at an Organisation level.Organisations are also required to submit a Statistical Linkage Key, (SLK-581). This will help determine the number of individual clients of drug and alcohol Organisations and measure how many times individuals visit Organisations. The client identifier must have between 4 and 12 alphanumeric characters.An external identifier such as a Medicare number should not be used and the identifier should not reveal the client’s identity.NADAbase automatically generates an SLK – for more information refer to the SLK section of the tutorial.Or explore Pages 59 and 60 of the NMDS Data Dictionary
Data entry needs to be reviewed for quality Ensure that:

  • the data entry is correct

  • values entered are within a valid numeric range

  • there are no blank responses

  • responses are logical and not contradictory.  For example, the client’s date of birth must be prior to the commencement of the episode.

Secondary clients ie. those people who contact a service in relation to another person’s drug use, must have data collected. Data relating to secondary clients must be reported, except for the following drug related data items (due to their unreliability and inappropriateness):
Principal Drug of Concern/Gambling
Method of Use for Principal Drug of Concern
Injecting Drug Use
Previous Services Received
Organisations can collect information locally for these items but they should not be submitted to the NSW Department of Health.
These items refer to the person that the secondary client is concerned about and not the secondary client.

Recommended guidelines for collecting information on Indigenous status

The Indigenous status question is asked through the NMDS and NSW MDS of all persons who attend a service. It is important to collect data on Indigenous status as it enables the planning and delivery of suitable services, as well as to assess and monitor changes in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health.

Due to prevailing inequalities in health status between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians, it is important that staff follow the recommended guidelines for collecting information on Indigenous status.

The recommendations below are based on The National Best Practice Guidelines for collecting Indigenous status in Health Data Sets (AIHW, 2010):

  • Do not assume the person to be an Aboriginal person.

  • Indigenous status should be asked of all persons irrespective of appearance, country of birth or whether the staff knows the person or their family background.

  • Regard the Indigenous status question as no more or less sensitive or problematic than other items of personal data routinely collected from persons.

  • All persons, whether Aboriginal, Torres Strait Islander or non-Indigenous, have the right to self-report their Indigenous status. Staff should not question or comment on the person’s response.

  • Refrain from asking any person the Indigenous status question as an act of discrimination.

  • Should a person want to change their Indigenous status, it should be received without comment and they should not be required to provide a reason for changing their status.

  • If a person does not speak English, but is accompanied by someone who can interpret for them, it is recommended that the person accompanying them is asked to translate the question and their response.

  • If there is no one with the person who can speak English, it is recommended that an interpreter or Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander liaison officer (who can interpret the relevant Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander language spoken by the person) be called to assist.

  • If a form is to be completed and the person cannot read or write, it is recommended that an appropriate staff member (e.g. an interpreter, social worker, Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander liaison officer/health worker) go through the questions with the person.

Explanation of specific data items

The following is an explanation of some data items from the NSW MDS that NADA members report have sometimes cause confusion among staff.

  • Living Arrangement

  • Usual Accommodation

  • Main Service Provided

  • Service Contact Dates

  • Postcode of residence at commencement of service episode

Living Arrangement

This refers to the people with whom the client is/was living just prior to the start of the service episode.

This information is collected to ascertain the level of support to which the client may have access.

Living arrangements may be relevant when deciding between different service and support options for the client.

Guidelines and collection rules
Code 03 Single parent with child(ren) A sole parent living with one or more dependent children.
Code 04 Spouse/partner and child(ren) Living with a spouse or partner and one or more dependent children.
Code 06 Other relatives Living in an extended family without a spouse or partner.
Code 08 Friend(s)/parent(s)/relative(s) and child(ren) Living in an extended family, with or without a spouse, partner and with any combination of friends, parents, relatives and dependent children.
Code 98 Other For people in an institutional living arrangement.

Usual Accommodation

This is the client’s usual type of accommodation just prior to the start of the service episode.

“Usual” is defined as the type of accommodation in which the person has lived just prior to the start of the service episode.

The setting in which the client usually lives can have a bearing on the type of service and support required by the client and the outcomes that may result from their service.

Main Service Provided

This is the main activity determined at assessment by the service provider to treat the client’s alcohol and/or drug problem for the Principle Drug of Concern.

It is a service provided to the client that requires regular contact with Organisation staff throughout the service episode.

Guidelines and collection rules
Code 60 Support and case management only To be used when the other service type descriptions are inadequate and ‘Support and case management only’ best describes the service being provided’.
Code 91 Assessment only To be used when the only service provided to the client is a clinical assessment, to gather comprehensive information to determine the severity of a person’s alcohol and/or other drug use and identifies the most appropriate form of service that is provided by another Organisation.

Assessment only should not be selected as the Main Service Provided where the client is assessed and deemed eligible at an Organisation, with the intent that the client proceed onto treatment provided by the Organisation.
Code 92 Information and education only To be used when the only service provided to the client is information and education.

Service Contact Dates

This is the date of each service contact between a treatment Organisation and a client.

This excludes a service contact with a carer or family member (unless they are a registered client) or another health professional or health worker involved in providing care.

Only a service contact between the client and the service provider should be reported.

The service contact dates should be represented as DDMMYYYY.


Service contact dates are collected only for non-residential activities.

Postcode of residence at Commencement of Service Epsiode

This is the postcode pertaining to the client’s usual place of residence at the commencement (or just prior to) of the service episode.

Use actual geographic postcodes provided by Australia Post.

Postcodes for post office boxes or other administrative centres should not be used.


9999 may be used if the postcode is ‘Unknown’.

9998 may be used for clients with ‘No fixed abode’.