Population Data Science at Swansea University in partnership with Public Health Wales (PHW), NHS Wales Informatics Services (NWIS) and Social Care Wales, will receive funding of up to £400,000 over two years to form a new national network of experts who are working to address some of the biggest challenges facing health and care today, both in Wales and the UK.
The Networked Data Lab, created by the independent charity the Health Foundation, is the first network of its kind, bringing together analytical teams from across the country to develop a deeper understanding of the factors affecting people’s health in the UK.
SAIL Databank and the Secure eResearch Platform (SeRP) based in Population Data Science will be supporting the Networked Data Lab, enabling access and use of data to answer the questions posed by the network and its partners in Wales and the UK.
While there is already a wealth of data which could be used to paint a clearer picture of the country’s health needs – including from GPs and specialist services to hospital care and local authorities – the Health Foundation explains that this information is often very fragmented and does not capture all of the health and care services that individuals are likely to receive.
The Networked Data Lab aims to address this challenge by using linked data captured at a local level across health and social care and using this to create unique insights that will help national and local decision-makers to better understand the needs of their community, improve existing services and design innovative new approaches to delivering care.
Areas where the Networked Data Lab could produce important insights, include identifying and mitigating the impact of COVID-19 on vulnerable groups who are shielding. For social care services, improved data could help identify older people who could benefit from early intervention to reduce the number of emergency admissions to hospital. And better data could identify gaps in care for those with severe mental illness, helping services prioritise care for those in greatest need and reducing the number of individuals that reach crisis point.
Ashley Akbari, Senior Research Manager and Data Scientist, at Population Data Science, said:
We are so excited at Swansea to be a partner of the Networked Data Lab Wales and a member of the wider UK network, which will enable us to collaborate on a multitude of impactful and innovative programmes, enabling accelerated use of linked data to address key questions in health and inequalities.’
We will be involved in the Patient and Public Engagement activities on the types of questions, the way these will be designed and the results. This will be facilitated by using networks and groups available to SAIL, PHW, NWIS, Social Care Wales, and our existing relationships with Health Data Research UK (HDR UK) and Administrative Data Research (ADR).
Sarah Deeny, Assistant Director of Data Analytics for Better Health, at the Health Foundation, explains:
What has been clear throughout the COVID-19 crisis, is that data and information are often the key to solving our most pressing health and care issues. They have played a fundamental role in understanding the challenges presented by the virus and in finding innovative ways to work and solve problems. But these complex challenges extend beyond the current crisis – we are going to have to be smarter in future to ensure that health and care services meet the needs of individuals.
The good news is that people are living longer than ever before but more of us have long-term health conditions, and there are growing health inequalities with those in the poorest areas experiencing significantly worse health. We need innovative approaches to delivering care to individuals and a better understanding of what is happening on the ground if we are going to meet these challenges.
Alisha Davies, Lead for Networked Data Lab Wales (NDL Wales) and Head of Research and Development at Public Health Wales, explains:
We are delighted to join the collaborative network of analytical teams across the UK as NDL Wales. This exciting and innovative programme will enable us to accelerate the use of linked data to address key questions in health.
Working in new ways with the Health Foundation Network Data Labs across the UK will enable us to deliver a timely and more in-depth understanding of highly relevant health challenges facing Wales and the UK.
Together we can optimise the use of routine data to address health, prevention and inequalities across generations, and produce valuable insights to inform decisions to improve population health in Wales.
Working with a team at the Health Foundation, analysts at NDL Wales will use the same statistical code, and will collaboratively develop analysis plans to interrogate linked health and care datasets. The Health Foundation team will provide support and leadership on project management, design of analysis, shared statistical programming, and synthesis of findings. The Foundation will also share learnings and the code used for analysis, to achieve impact at national and local level.