How to get value out of your data as an NHS Trust: translating ideas to reality

Most Healthcare organisations and NHS Trusts in the UK have established data and analytics resources in place along with a team of skilled and experienced professionals –these experienced teams are a crucial part of the NHS system enabling better care for patients.

However, to keep up with evolving technology and fast changing needs, data in healthcare is due an update; modernisation of solutions is often a challenge due to cultural obstacles and lack of knowledge around best practice. This is particularly true with each Trust acting as an individual organisation.


Better, Broader, Safer

The recently published report ‘Better, Broader, Safer: Using Health Data for Research and Analysis’ by Ben Goldacre focuses on this modernisation of the healthcare system. The report identifies an opportunity for Trusts to utilise their data in order to maximise opportunities, manage risks and fundamentally deliver better care for patients.

Amongst the challenges that healthcare workers face daily are long waiting lists, a lack of resource, and a variety of discourse around the priority level of patients – none of these issues are new, but they can all be traced back to data – which is an undeniably huge resource for the NHS. Patient privacy and information governance as a whole is a huge barrier in health data; analysts are “deeply frustrated by inaccessibility of data, and missed opportunities to improve patient care, when slow information governance access obstruct data access.”

Combine this with the large amount of time analysts spend on data preparation within a project – around 80% – and it’s clear to see that accessible data is vital to the modernisation of healthcare data practices. This figure is often due to ambiguity within the data, such as discrepancies with language and the need for granular detail.

One of Goldacre’s primary recommendations is to share code, methods and technical documentation between all healthcare researchers and analysts. He suggests doing this using no more than three national Trusted and Shared Research Environments (TREs), which will improve not only access to data, but data quality and efficiency. Many of Goldacre’s recommendations link back to TREs, such as data extraction for GP’s becoming a single national extraction, rather than 6,500 GP practices each extracting their own data. This would, in turn, make cross-trust reporting much more accessible, and allow more in-depth data insights to be found.

Modernising the data infrastructure of the NHS can drive innovation and save lives, but it can be tricky for individual Trusts to see where within the structure they sit, and therefore what they can tangibly do to improve their data insights. Systematic change as a concept is revolutionary and it’s easy to read high-level recommendations and agree with them, but the journey to those changes, particularly on such a large scale, can be long and difficult. How can you, as a single Trust, get started without having to wait on this systematic change?


Identify Roles and Responsibilities

It may sound obvious but defining (or re-defining) who does what in your team can be a great conversation starter. As people join and leave, and as the organisation progresses as a whole, it can be very easy to assume, so having this conversation helps prevent any oversight or duplication of effort. It can also identify any gaps you may have missed and reinstates any responsibilities that may have dropped by the wayside.


Assess where you are – and where you want to be

Another simple starting point, but also vital in terms of your data maturity and data strategy. It is very easy for inconsistencies to emerge when having an open and frank conversation about your data analytics.

  1. Do you have a data strategy in place? If so, how far along are you?
  2. How mature is your data?
  3. What’s your reporting ability like?
  4. Ultimately, is everyone on the same page when it comes to your data?

The truth is, we often see differences of opinion, not because there have been any miscommunications, but simply due to human nature and different interpretations. However, conversations like these can also allow opportunities for solutions to be discussed, resulting in furthering your data strategy as well as resolving any differences.

Although a great idea in theory, conversations like these are often hard to put into practice. I would recommend investing your time carrying out a Modern Data Analytics Assessment that will provide all the information you need to move to the next stage of your data journey. The assessment should give you a clear picture of the options, the expected benefits, the skills required, the anticipated costs and most importantly a roadmap to get you there!


Focus on end-user reporting

Ultimately, you can have the best quality data around, but if you aren’t presenting it well with a good reporting capability, you’ll get very little out of it. By focusing on end-user reporting, you can ensure your data insights are as detailed and useful as possible. Using software such as Power BI to present your data will make it fully interactive and allow your Trust to make better informed decisions based on the data at hand.



As we mentioned, Power BI is a hugely powerful tool for presenting data, so it’s important that you know the tool inside out in order to get the most out of not only the software, but your data. The Power Platform (in which Power BI sits) is an intuitive suite of software that can further your reporting capabilities and data analytics. Training on these types of Citizen Application Platforms can be an easy way to get more value out of your data (and your money!).


Getting value out of your data as an individual Trust within a larger system can be tricky to navigate, particularly when the latest recommendations focus on the systematic change. However, it’s not impossible! Goldacre has identified key challenges within healthcare, and in doing so, has recognised the opportunities for growth. Taking these ideas and reducing them to a manageable scale for a single trust means that modernising your data solutions is no longer out of reach.


Would you like to learn more?

Contact us today to learn more about how Simpson Associates can help you get the most value out of your data as an NHS trust, by modernising your data solutions and assessing your data strategy. Or sign up to our webinar, ‘Data Strategy in the NHS: Breaking down internal barriers’ at 11am-12pm on 10th November. We’ll be discussing best practices for overcoming internal barriers, how to gain the most insight from your data, and tips for creating unified processes.



Better, broader, safer: using health data for research and analysis – GOV.UK (


Blog Author

Rob Harcourt, Business Development Manager, Simpson Associates


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