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GUEST BLOG: new ways of working to transform local services

Dr Marc Farr, Chief Analytical Officer, East Kent Hospitals NHSFT

The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in much faster access to data and more collaborative working across health and care organisations in local areas. This has transformed the speed at which analysts, managers and clinicians are able to uncover invaluable insights into their local populations; enabling forecasting and modelling that can help to predict demand and make best use of resources.

There’s a huge groundswell of support for this new way of working to become standard as we move out of the pandemic; with real time, up to date access to data that can improve services, speed up diagnosis and protect those in communities that are most vulnerable.

Dr Marc Farr, Chief Analytical Officer, East Kent Hospitals NHSFT

Open data Saves Lives. This is my view and if the pandemic has demonstrated anything, it’s that there’s huge benefit, if done properly and securely, in linking data for the common good.

The Government’s COVID-19 Collection of Patient Information (COPI) notice has allowed us to access, link, store and analyse data in a way we have never been able to before. It’s been an incredibly positive development and we should and cannot go back.

We have been able to model what is happening in our local community and use these models to anticipate demand, redirect staff and resources in our wider community and predict and relieve pressure within our hospital. We have been able to efficiently manage and share COVID test results, daily, across the region. We have been able to stream people on arrival in an emergency department, immediately reducing the risk of patients contracting Covid while in hospital.

But this improvement in operational activity is just the tip of the iceberg. We can do so much more. For example, the increase of domestic abuse during lockdown has quite rightly attracted a lot of news coverage over the last year. Again, through a brave approach to Information Governance, we’ve created research links between the police and the NHS to identify families at risk and support them. I have found it very heartening to see this level of collaboration to tackle something that is obviously very sensitive in terms of sharing data in a way that protects confidentiality; but ultimately is incredibly important to protect vulnerable families from the threat of violence.

And we’re using new tools. We’re analysing the free text in patient records so that we can pick out vital information that might otherwise be missed - for example to warn a nurse that a frail patient has a chest fracture and may be in too much pain to actually to ask for help (just imagine how many different ways clinical staff might describe a chest fracture in a patient’s notes - for example; chest fracture, fracture of chest, chest frac, chest X, not chest frac and so on…). And we are able to analyse the ‘deteriorating resident’ remotely (in a care home or at their own home) through pulse oximetry, heart rate monitors and so on.

By developing a data linkage and information governance framework that includes administrative data, clinical data and personal data we can support people to monitor and stay in control of their own health and we can help policy makers to design services which are more efficient and give better outcomes.

This all relies on the public’s trust in linking data to improve the common good - and research shows that the majority of people do support us using data in this way. But we need to maintain that trust and keep making the case for doing even more with data to improve care for everyone.