NHS Innovation: Mind the community data gap

The NHS is awash with innovation and new thinking. This has always been the case, as NHS England’s exiting National Medical Director Sir Bruce Keogh was keen to remind all of us at this month’s Health and Care Innovation Expo.

Yet it is the coming together of two still-evolving themes in healthcare innovation that is absolutely critical to the success of the system Sir Bruce leaves behind – and whether the NHS is capable of joining those dots is far from certain.

Data on the march
Unsurprisingly, data collection and utilisation are becoming ever more central to how the NHS will run itself in the future. From providing highly sophisticated Clinical Decision Support through to calculating demand and capacity in acute trusts via NHSE and NHSI’s sponsored programme, steps are being taken to make these mainstream tools.

While care needs to be taken to recognise that these are only tools and must be used to serve the interests of NHS patients and staff, we can see real value emerging from this work. Put simply, they enable an elucidated and accurate data-driven view of what is really happening in a significant and costly part of our NHS services. This has to be the basis for meaningful change and innovation in the future.

Integration continues to gain more attention
Alongside this, it was refreshing to hear at the Expo so many talks focused on the need for integration and how to overcome the barriers to it.

The work ongoing in the Greater Manchester Health and Social Care Partnership is focused on just this challenge. Its three key pillars of ‘Single Hospital Service’, ‘Manchester Health and Care Commissioning’, and ‘Local Care Organisation’ are encouraging. The latter is clearly focused on the integration of a broad range of out of hospital providers working together to support a healthier local population.

We believe this focus on out of hospital services and integration with a wide array of service providers – including voluntary sector and housing – will be critical to the long-term success of the NHS.

Mind the data gap
Importantly, it is where these two themes intersect and then perhaps part company that is most critical to the success of the system’s current attempt at reconfiguration.

It continues to be the case that so much of the new work on data is focused on the activity that takes place in acute hospitals. Whilst it’s is clearly vital that we continue to get control of hospital performance and finances, the STP process holds that it is what goes on outside of the hospital that is critical to a sustainable NHS.

On that basis we must get a clearer understanding of demand and capacity within community-based services. This is highly complex in the out of hospital world given it involves a range of providers, many of which are not NHS organisations. But for those that are providing NHS services, the work must start now if they are to play a meaningful role in the development of STPs and, ultimately, accountable care organisations.

This means putting data at the centre of what they do. Capturing, storing and analysing data to give a clear picture of what is going on and why. In turn, this will enable them to demonstrate very tangibly how they can make a real difference to the wider system and the demands being placed upon it.

Whilst the intent is there to harness data to bring forth the changes needed, we need to ensure the gap is bridged. Only then will we be able to join the dots and ensure local health systems are aligned, delivering on the needs of the communities that they serve.

To talk to us about utilising data and new technologies in the NHS, email robin.naudi@baxendale.co.uk

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