BACKGROUND: A promising approach to reduce the increasing costs of clinical trials is the use of routinely collected health data as participant data. However, the quality of this data could limit its usability as trial participant data. METHODS: The BOSS trial is a randomised controlled trial comparing regular endoscopies versus endoscopies at need in patients with Barrett's oesophagus with primary endpoint death. Data on death and cancer collected every 2 years after randomisation (trial-specific data) were compared to data received annually (all patients on one date) from the routinely collected health data source National Health Service (NHS) Digital. We investigated completeness, agreement and timeliness and looked at the implications for the primary trial outcome. Completeness and agreement were assessed by evaluating the number of reported and missing cases and any disparities between reported dates. Timeliness was considered by graphing the year a death was first reported in the trial-specific data against that for NHS Digital data. Implications on the primary trial outcome, overall survival, of using one of the data sources alone were investigated using Kaplan-Meier graphs. To assess the utility of cause of death and cancer diagnoses, oesophageal cancer cases were compared. RESULTS: NHS Digital datasets included more deaths and often reported them sooner than the trial-specific data. The number reported as being from oesophageal cancer was similar in both datasets. Due to time lag in reporting and missing cases, the event rate appeared higher using the NHS Digital data. CONCLUSION: NHS Digital death data is useful for calculating overall survival where trial-specific follow-up is only every 2 years from randomisation and the follow-up requires patient response. The cancer data was not a large enough sample to assess usability. We suggest that this assessment of registry data is done for more phase III RCTs and for more registry data to get a more complete picture of when RCHD would be useful in phase III RCT. TRIAL REGISTRATION: ISRCTN54190466 (BOSS) 1 Oct 2009.