How can we address the shortfall in analytical capability?

The shortfall in analytical capability has been growing for some time. It would be over-optimistic to think there were simple, short-term solutions to address that. As with most things, we need to see action at several levels and over sustained periods. The following areas are particularly important.

What can be done at the national level?

  • Invest in analysts working in support of the service. There are several ways in which the role of analysis can be recognised and developed. There are some good existing programmes, but coverage is patchy. The NHS Long Term Plan places a strong emphasis on the benefits of new technology but investment in skilled analysis must be on par with investment in technologies. We need clearer statements about the importance of analytical capability and support for organisations working on analytical career development.
  • Develop a strategy for developing analytical capability. Given the importance of good-quality analytics for supporting quality and efficiency improvements, as well as innovation in the NHS, a comprehensive strategy for building analytical capability is required. This should address the current limitations (set out in Box 2).
  • Place a much stronger emphasis on translational analytics. Academic institutes have invested significantly in data science. This investment needs to be complemented by approaches that bridge the gap between academic research and real-life practice. Funding bodies should provide incentives for the implementation and spread of new analytical methods.
  • Set expectations for what is appropriate analysis for supporting key decisions. Many existing national initiatives aim to improve the quality and efficiency of the health care service, and they often place demands on local analytical teams to provide data or conduct analyses. Arm's-length bodies have an opportunity to improve the quality of analytics by raising the expectations of what data analysis is appropriate. It is important to allow for flexibility, so that local analytical teams can properly work with clinical teams and managers to understand the problem and apply appropriate analytical methods.
  • Provide opportunities for analytical teams to share learning. The analytical community is currently very fragmented, with limited opportunities for teams to share learning. National bodies can help overcome these problems by developing a learning infrastructure as part of national programmes. This could take the form of websites and conferences that allow analysts to share their challenges and support each other. These initiatives can complement those that the analytical community develops for itself.
  • Support programmes aimed at clarifying skills, competencies and career frameworks. Several groups are already looking to develop more consistent frameworks to describe analytical skills and competencies. This work can help recruitment and career development for analysts.

What can local system organisational leaders do?

  • Recognise that analytical capability is a key element of local strategies. These strategies could relate to information, service transformation or workforce and organisational development.
  • Recognise the need for local analytical capability when implementing new information tools (such as predictive analytical tools to understand the potential future demand implications of organisational care delivery).
  • Support local training and networking initiatives. In particular, look for training programmes that work across teams and across organisations. The Health Foundation has some examples of these in our Advancing Applied Analytics awards. We also recommend learning approaches that seek common solutions to shared problems – for example, building robust, validated, locally configurable capacity, demand and patient-flow models to add greater consistency and transparency to decision-making. This process would need to build on well-established methodologies to ensure variation and uncertainty are accounted for. It is important to recognise that training is not just about keeping up with the latest coding or software tools.
  • Audit internal capability and explore what skills and talent already exist in the organisation. There is a need for more general tools that will help organisations assess their own capability and draw up local plans. Trust boards need to develop themselves to be digitally ready to competently digest good-quality analytical insights and, ultimately, make good decisions.
  • When negotiating partnerships with the private sector, look for opportunities to develop analytical capability. Over the coming years, NHS organisations may wish to provide private companies with access to NHS data. In return, the private sector could facilitate skills transfer so that the NHS can build analytical capability in a sustainable way.
  • Support and develop people who can work across analytical and senior management/clinical roles.
  • Work across organisational boundaries to make the most of analytical capability. This includes investing in the use of linked data to give an overarching view of wider-population health delivery, patient experience and outcomes.

What can the analytical community do?

  • Exploit opportunities for networking, sharing learning, collaborating and sharing analyst-developed tools that have cross-organisation use. The open-source platform lends itself well to this.
  • Invest in personal development:
    • offered by national bodies (eg NHS Leadership Academy, NHS Digital Academy, Health Education England)
    • delivered by analytical networks/organisations (eg the Association of Professional Healthcare Analysts, NHS-R Community or Academic Health Science Networks).
  • Advocate for itself and not rely on national leadership. This could mean advocating the benefits of better analysis and being forceful about the business benefits that can accrue.
  • Build teams with a range of analytical skills and find ways to link these with key problems. Give analysts the opportunity to visit key problem areas to get a better understanding of the analytical techniques required. Help them integrate into wider teams and share the concepts of analytics with clinical colleagues.
  • Recognise the importance of communicating effectively and engaging with senior managers and clinicians about the value of better analysis. There needs to be an acknowledgement by analysts that the supporting narrative around analysis is an integral part of its delivery. It’s not just the numbers!
  • Develop better ways to select the right analytical approach for a given problem. This is an area where analytical networks can add real value, enabling analysts to seek peer support, access expert opinion and draw from the experience of others in their community in relative safety.
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