NHS pressure: Embracing data today, to save lives tomorrow

Rob O’Neill, Head of Information at NHS Trust, University Hospital of Morecambe Bay Trust, discusses how the use of data can reduce the ever-growing pressure on the NHS and save lives

The coming decade will invariably see the UK National Health Service (NHS) looking after many more people than it currently is. Recent reports suggest that the number people in the UK over 85 is projected to increase from 1.3 million to 2 million and one in five of all new-born boys and nearly one in three of all new-born girls will now live to be centenarians. People living longer is great news and we should celebrate this fact, however, there is a critical need to address the increased pressure on our already overextended healthcare system. That’s why it’s crucial that NHS trusts across the UK are looking at innovative ways of maintaining and improving patient service delivery.

Technology is widely considered a panacea to solving this issue, and there’s widespread agreement that moving to digital processes can go some way in easing the pressures on frontline NHS staff. Numerous healthcare trusts have made headway in this, but the process is slow, with many hospital ward clerks still shifting enormous stacks of paperwork to process a simple patient transfer.

Nevertheless, many organisations have made good progress. The UK government’s recent 10-year plan for the NHS laid out the framework for embracing the digital and data age, empowering staff and freeing up more time for clinicians to provide more quality face to face patient care. However, NHS leaders need to realise that implementing various technological tools is not the aim and in the maelstrom of day to day patient care, large amounts of information from disparate data sources can make it difficult to have a clear route to solid data-driven and actionable insights.

University Hospital Morecambe Bay Trust: Case study

At University Hospital Morecambe Bay Trust (UHMBT), we’ve worked on a solution to this problem and, in partnership with Qlik, have developed a cutting-edge analytic command centre. The term ‘command centre’ may conjure images of military generals huddled around green blips on a screen, or large groups of NASA scientists looking apprehensively at a bank of screens, but we’ve used the idea of providing clear and actionable insights to revolutionise patient flow systems across our healthcare system. The command centre is a physical analytics hub in the hospital, where five large touchscreen displays along the wall present different aspects of the emergency care journey. The screens offer insights into the ambulances on their way to the hospital and developments in the emergency department, which help staff prepare for the arrival of patients by assessing their needs and hospital resources. It’s through this analytics hub that we’re able to make the complex simple and improve the care we offer to our patients.

Yet, although our command centre uses sophisticated data analytics, it’s not just for the IT team. The intuitive display is designed for use by all, be they nurses, clinicians or management staff – it’s the people who are dealing with these issues day to day who are able to make the most impact. This system has certainly improved how we run our wards at UHMBT. The numbers of patients triaged within 15 minutes of arrival has grown from around 65% to a position where the Trust consistently triages 95% of patients within 15 mins of arrival at one of the Emergency Departments. We’ve also seen a significant fall in medical outliers since the command centre went live which is know supports high-quality care and improved patient outcomes. Due to high levels of non-elective demand, the organisation is experiencing a peak in patients having to be cared for in an ‘outlying location’ (medical patient being treated on a non-medical ward) over the Winter months but thanks to the operational use of the command centre we see the peak is notably reduced, and recovery from it quicker, compared to previous Winters.

Ultimately to succeed, more NHS Trusts across the UK will need to make the move to embrace a data-first culture and it’s only through reinventing the way that our healthcare leaders engage with data can we find a long-term solution to the demands placed on the NHS. In the coming decade, a data-first culture will bridge the gap between insight and outcomes, and ultimately, save patient lives.

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