NHS Business Services Authority
The NHS Business Services Authority (NHSBSA) manages more than £35 billion of NHS spending. With tight budgets, particularly after the COVID-19 pandemic, its role has never been more important as it strives to ensure efficiency of both cost and use of resources, while also contributing to patient safety.
The NHSBSA already has its own established data lab but with the huge amount of data it holds and the opportunities that presents, its team must stay at the cutting-edge of data science. To fulfil its role effectively they must maintain a high level of expertise while also harnessing the latest data tools and techniques.
Working with NICD was a cost-effective way to really help the team upskill and help us improve our ways of working, and NICD were incredibly flexible
The NHSBSA is an arms-length body of the Department of Health and Social Care and its purpose is to be a catalyst for better health. It is responsible for a wide range of services, including reimbursing all pharmacies and dentists across the UK for providing NHS services. Because of this it holds a huge amount of information, from all its transaction data to NHS workforce data, including things like pensions, job applications and overseas health data. NHSBSA is committed to using and sharing data appropriately and with the proper permissions in place.
The NHSBSA decided to work with the NICD to ensure that its data team’s skills remained up to date. Unlike many of our clients they did not ask us to work on a single project but instead we spread our time over three separate projects, working alongside the NHSBSA’s data team so that we could introduce them to new techniques they may not have been aware of.
While the NHSBSA has very capable data scientists in-house, we were able to identify ways that they could enhance their performance through the use of tools and techniques including:
- new packages within the R software suite
- new modelling approaches
- statistical machine learning
- Bayesian modelling
Building data science skills
Analysing all its data in-house to drive efficiencies rather than using expensive consultants provides a huge benefit to the NHSBSA, but staying up to date in the fast-moving world of data science is a challenge. In order to ensure its data scientists understood the latest tools and techniques, they worked alongside NICD so that we could explain new ideas and transfer the latest skills to them.
We worked with five key members of the data team across projects related to medicines, pharmacies and respiratory data in order to introduce them to tools and skills that could be employed to support the NHS.
Nadine Morrisroe, the NHSBSA’s Interim Data Analytics Manager, explains: “We created our Data Analytics Lab around seven years ago. This included a dedicated environment where we could bring data together to perform analytics and answer important business questions. Given the value of the transactions flowing through our organisation, we knew that we could do more with the data that we collected… So, if it was prescriptions data, for example, not just reimbursing pharmacists but using the data to provide valuable insights to improve things like patient safety, processes, identify savings and so on.”
“The reason we went to NICD was that in data science you need to be constantly learning. So, it was really important to us to be able to see what new skills, technologies and approaches are out there. We also wanted a fresh perspective on our data; someone who could ask those awkward and challenging questions about things we perhaps take for granted.”
The NHS wants to better understand the link between public health and social care, and the resources it has. To do that, it needs to analyse data
Gleaning data insights
Nadine and her team were already using the cutting-edge data analytics language R but we were able to show them new packages they could implement to give them greater data insights and introduce them to new modelling techniques.
NICD Data Scientist Dr Jonathan Law explains: “Many of the team had some experience building and interpreting machine learning (ML) models. However, through collaborative working on these initiatives, they gained a broader understanding of how such models can be implemented and what insight can be drawn from them. This allowed the team to become more familiar with how to build ML models into reproducible workflows, how to make more informed decisions within an ML pipeline, and to have a greater variety of perspectives to interpret model performance from. The team also came away with a better understanding of the importance of feature engineering, and how model interpretation can inform feature engineering within the process of model iteration.”
Steve Caughey, Director of NICD explains that the NHS needs data skills, and by upskilling existing staff it can avoid the high costs of data consultants who have to be called back for each new project. By working with NICD the NHSBSA has been able to give its people the skills to carry out more data projects aimed at saving the NHS money, making it more efficient and supporting patients.
“Our ability to leverage insight from the data we have in the NHSBSA is critical in our mission to support the improvement of services across the NHS and Health and Care System, to have the ability to collaborate with the NICD is essential in achieving this mission," says Darren Curry, Chief Digital and Data Officer, NHS Business Services Authority.
"The capabilities and experiences that the NICD team can bring to work together with our in-house data science experts brings together knowledge, a solid blend of subject matter expertise and creativity in the application from the innovative and passionate NICD team.”