Hospitals around the country are well accustomed to huge annual rises in patient numbers as winter demand hits accident and emergency departments. But Wrightington, Wigan and Leigh NHS Foundation Trust (WWL) had to rethink service planning after unprecedented A&E demand during a sunny July 2014, which saw ambulances queuing outside the hospital. The trust now employs computer analysis to help predict and prepare for peaks in demand.
As public sector organisations grapple with ever-tighter savings targets, analysis of a broad range of historical data – big data analytics – offers an opportunity to pre-empt service requirements and so help the public sector manage demand more effectively and target scarce resources better. However, working with data to gain insight and save money is not without its challenges.
At WWL, a partnership with business support provider NHS Shared Business Services – a 50:50 joint venture between the Department of Health and technology firm Sopra Steria – resulted in a project that uses an analysis of historical data and complex algorithms to predict the most likely scenarios. In September, the partners launched HealthIntell, a suite of data reporting tools for A&E, procurement and finance.
The suite includes an application designed to help hospitals better cope with A&E pressures and meet waiting time targets. HealthIntell presents real-time data on attendances at A&E departments to doctors and other decision makers. It can predict demand on a daily and hourly basis, and allows trusts to use their own data to identify peaks and troughs – for example, the likely rise in attendances due to bad weather or major sporting events – to help deploy the right people with the right expertise at the right time.
The trust sees around 280 patients in A&E every day, of whom 60 or so will be admitted and need a bed. To plan to meet demand, having an accurate picture of what is happening is crucial. Information is presented throughout the trust’s hospitals, including on a 70-inch touchscreen installed in A&E (pictured above), which helps to ensure enough staff are on hand and that sufficient beds are available for patients likely to be admitted.