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Making better use of data has the potential to strongly influence service improvement in the NHS and social care. To make the most of the available information, we need to support data analysts and build data analytics capability within services. Here are three ways the Health Foundation is helping to support the use of data and the work of analysts, to improve quality of care.

1. Our Advancing Applied Analytics programme

We are providing support for analysts through our Advancing Applied Analytics programme. This funding programme offers up to £75,000 per project, to support the development of novel and ambitious projects that improve data analytics capability and share learning across networks to improve health and social care services.

One of the first projects funded through the programme is run by Midlothian Health and Social Care Partnership and aims to improve care for people living with frailty. The project is working with analysts and using quality improvement methods to explore how the Electronic Frailty Index (eFI), developed by the National Institute for Health Research, can be used in primary care in Midlothian. The eFI uses general practice read codes (terms used in patient records) to identify patients who are frail. The project is establishing a broader analytical method to identify all frail patients in the area. 

The information generated will be used by services to identify potential unmet need, to trigger a review or assessment, and to improve care for people with frailty. To improve analytical capability, staff in general practices will be trained to use analytical tools to measure improvement, and teams will be supported to implement their own projects to improve care for patients with frailty. This project is a great example of how the Advancing Applied Analytics programme is supporting local teams of analysts to use data in innovative ways, which will leave a legacy of organisations that are better able to use data analytics to improve care.

This month, we announced 11 new projects funded through this programme.

Martin Bardsley, Senior Fellow at the Health Foundation, says: “We know from our report Understanding analytical capability in health care that analytical capability is under-developed in the NHS. We have selected 11 stimulating local projects that will demonstrate how better analysis can lead to better health and care. In particular, these projects will address the capability deficiencies that exist, and provide lessons for the wider health and social care system. We look forward to working with the project teams to highlight the value of analytical skills and explore the best ways that they can be delivered.”

Find out more about the new projects that will start later this year. We expect the third round of funding to open in January 2019.

2. Improvement Analytics Unit 

The Improvement Analytics Unit, a partnership between NHS England and the Health Foundation, is championing the use of advanced statistical methods to evaluate the impact of major NHS improvement programmes. The unit analyses existing NHS datasets using a range of techniques including:

  • The development of a robust analysis (counterfactual) that enables us to compare performance between the study population and a control group.
  • Regression analysis to help identify causal effect.
  • The linkage of different data sets to track patient outcomes as they progress through their care journey.

By publishing our work alongside peer-reviewed statistical analysis protocols, we hope to build awareness of the ability to conduct robust evaluation of NHS initiatives using existing NHS data sets.
In future, the unit will be working through existing analytical networks to continue to spread understanding of and capability in the use of these techniques.

3. Supporting networks

We are funding important networks of analysts to support connections between people and the sharing of learning and experience.

The NHS-R community is a new community supporting learning and use of ‘R’ in the NHS. ‘R’ is a freely available statistical and graphics programming language which is widely used in academia and business, but infrequently used in the NHS. Currently, the lack of a common, easy-to-use platform is a barrier to sharing data analysis techniques across the NHS and R could be part of the solution.

The NHS-R community is building on an existing collaboration between the University of Bradford, the Improvement Academy and the Association of Professional Healthcare Analysts and extending it to include NHS Improvement and NHS Wales. In establishing an NHS-R community, it will support learning and use of R through regional workshops, training materials and online community resources. Workshops cover understanding and reporting hospital mortality statistics, predicting urgent demand for hospital care and evaluating interventions. The first ‘Use R in the NHS’ conference is taking place on 9 October 2018 in Birmingham.

Professor Mohammed A Mohammed, NHS-R project lead, says, “Our aim is to promote the use of R in the NHS, so that we can mine the mountains of data in the NHS to help make the NHS better.”

Find out more about the network and access learning and resources on its dedicated website

The Association of Professional Healthcare Analysts (AphA) is a network of analysts across the UK. We are supporting AphA to encourage analysts to learn from each other, improve the quality of analytics and raise awareness across the NHS of the important role that good analysis can play in making decisions about health care. 

AphA holds regional meetings, technical workshops and an annual conference, shares knowledge about analytics and data for health care through newsletters and its website, and encourages strong community relationships.

Find out more about the network on the AphA website 

PLanning for the Effective Transformation of Health using Operational Research and Advanced Analytics (PLETHORA) is a 12-month UK-wide project drawing together analysts and operational researchers to make better use of advanced analytics and data to support decision making and delivery of care in the NHS. The project is run by MASHnet, the UK Network for Modelling and Simulation in Healthcare.

We’re funding PLETHORA to link together analysts and researchers, exploring how successful analytical techniques that have been used in other sectors can be brought to the NHS. A series of working groups are focusing on capacity building in the NHS; examining current engagement between research and the NHS and recommending improvements for engagement; and improving representation and access to data for data analysts. Find out more on the MASHnet website.

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