Data have been widely hailed as ‘the raw material of the 21st century’ and ‘better use of data’ is a central feature of the NHS Long Term Plan. Yet, data alone does not produce insights. To capitalise on opportunities to improve health and care, we need the data and outstanding data analysis. However, policymakers and academia have almost exclusively focused on pure academic research around the aetiology of disease; the field of practical coalface analytics has been largely neglected. The workforce is given little formal training and has been largely sidelined. Analyses are typically done behind closed doors, which blocks error-checking and reuse; clinicians and commissioners often lack the skills and support needed to ask good questions of data. Consequently, current use of data analysis to support decision making in the NHS is variable, and often poor.

To address these concerns we set out to: (i) identify the technical, cultural and regulatory barriers to the better use of analysis; (ii) identify potential solutions to these barriers; (iii) frame these barriers and solutions as action statements in a standard format (‘specific person/organisation should do this specific thing so that this specific outcome can be achieved.’); (iv) outline what successful change would look like in the format of ‘we'll know we’ve won when’ statements. This paper reports the themes and solutions arising from our discussions

Bringing NHS data analysis into the 21st century

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