Improvement in the quality of health and care services depends on good-quality analytical support. We need to use data to identify areas of poor care, guide choices about priorities for care, improve efficiency and improve patient care. An organisation's analytical capability is their ability to analyse information and use it to make decisions. However, we know that in practice health and care systems are often not able to draw on high-quality analytical support. There is a shortage of people with the right skills and tools to do analysis, and collaborate with clinicians and managers on using their insights to improve care. This is exacerbated when the analysts we do have spend much of their time doing relatively low-value work – for example, compiling reports that aren't read. By investing in the analytical workforce, we will be able to unlock the full potential of data.

Better analysis is needed to support:

  • clinical decision-making to help busy clinicians diagnose and manage disease
  • innovation and change in the NHS, and to evaluate the success of new models of care and whether changes deliver the expected benefits
  • effective board-level oversight of complex organisations and care systems
  • better everyday management of the monitoring and improvement of the quality and efficiency of care
  • senior decision-makers to respond better to national incentives and regulation
  • the allocation of finite resources
  • better understanding of how patients flow through the system
  • new data and digital tools
  • patients and the public in using information.

Advances in digital technologies have the potential to transform how care is delivered, but many of these benefits will not be fully realised by organisations without in-house analytical support. The current analyst workforce needs to develop its skill sets and be given leadership and support at senior levels in each organisation.

To get the most out of digital technologies, we need to recognise the importance of investing in the people who shape the information that is communicated and used. Though specialist academic, data-science roles are welcome, we also need people who can implement innovation. Where there has been investment in wider analytics (people, education, tools and techniques), there have been some favourable outcomes, as shown by the examples included in this report.

The challenge of developing analytical capability is not new. However, it is becoming ever more important as new data streams and tools emerge and opportunities for better analysis are missed.

We suggest action is needed at all levels of the system:

  • National and local agencies should recognise the development of analytical capability as an important issue. They need to develop local strategies and new ways of working that support the development of the analytical teams in their organisations and identify key gaps.
  • Investment in training and development tools to support better analysis is needed. A particular focus should be placed on developing in-house teams. Such development needs to apply not just to analysts but also to clinicians and managers and should encourage good links between the use of analysis and its application.
  • The slow uptake of technologies such as open-source software, and techniques such as data-science and operational research, is of concern. These technologies and techniques can bring significant insight and value to health care services but are not being fully exploited at present.
  • The sharing of skills and experience across organisations should be supported, to build a culture of 'build it once, share it to everyone'. The analytical community can be fragmented, with limited opportunity for teams to share learning or access specialist skills.
  • As much emphasis should be placed on the application and translation of ideas as on their research and development. Investment in new digital technologies and in data-science methods needs accompanying investment in the local analytical workforce.
  • The importance of the people who can make sense of data should be recognised, and investment made in the leadership of analytical roles, for instance by having a Chief Analytical Officer in each organisation.
  • Most importantly, we need to set higher standards for the way information is used in delivering care and recognise the full potential of the datasets already held.