The health and social care sector are never far from the top of the list of areas needing further insight to help make services and the experiences of people using them better – and that has only been amplified as both the immediate and consequential impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic are felt.
But how do you begin to unpick the situation facing health and social care in Wales and address services to help those that need them the most?
Thanks to a collaboration across academia, public health, social care and government – a team of data scientists, policymakers, business analysts and public engagement specialists have come together under the banner of the Networked Data Lab (NDL) Wales – funded by the Health Foundation – to drive learning and understanding around these big questions. The NDL Wales brings together Public Health Wales, Swansea University (the SAIL Databank), Social Care Wales and Digital Health and Care Wales.
Dr Alisha Davies is the Head of Research and Development at Public Health Wales, Honorary Professor at Swansea University and the lead investigator for the NDL Wales which was funded to provide insight that will help to build services in Wales and provide improvements to care where it is needed.
As part of the NDL Wales team, Alisha and her colleagues will be working with routinely collected, individual-level, anonymised data sources on the population of Wales, which when linked together will help to paint a picture of the sector in Wales and the needs of those that use it.
“The need for the NDL collaboration was felt long before the emergence of COVID-19 and now as we start to move out of the pandemic we are witnessing how that need has never been greater.”
Gareth John, Information Manager at Digital Health and Care Wales said: “The NDL collaboration will help us in Wales to better utilise our data in support of future health service planning, with a particular emphasis on those in most need of help, care and support, and how best to deliver services to this group”
“Wales has always had world-leading systems and platforms in the form of the SAIL Databank and more recently the National Data Resource (NDR), and so we are in a prime position to enable research and intelligence at a population-scale as part of the NDL programme.”
Alisha Davies continues: “Thanks to the NDL collaboration, already in Wales we have been able to shine a light on how the pandemic impacted those identified as being most clinically vulnerable. The findings in Wales have now formed part of a UK wide picture, which has not been possible before. Thanks to the work of our partners in fellow NDL’s we can now look at factors affecting people at a local, national and UK level – which can only help to improve health and social care across the board.
“Our next project focuses on the impact on children and young people’s mental health, an area that is felt to have suffered significantly during the pandemic. The implementation of the NDL could not have been timelier, areas that were on our agenda before the pandemic are now in great need of insight. With the dedicated NDL Wales resource, the expertise that unites the team and the availability of secure anonymised data linkage infrastructure in Wales, we are expertly placed to help.”
Ashley Akbari, Senior Research Manager and Data Scientist at Swansea University said: “Working together, sharing and building expertise has been at our core values and strengths in Wales for a long time, and central to the NDL Wales and wider NDL collaboration as a whole. The priorities and topics which we focus on have been discussed with teams and the public around the UK, with policy relevance and impact for people and services as one of the key considerations. By discussing these common questions we can share learning and make improvements at scale.”
Lisa Trigg, Assistant Director for Research, Data and Intelligence at Social Care Wales: “We’re excited to be part of this collaboration and delighted that the NDL spans the needs of both health and social care. Harnessing the power of our data is such an important part of improving the outcomes of people who use care and support in Wales. The NDL provides a unique opportunity to test and implement new approaches to data analysis and explore the advantages presented by increased sharing of data – all based on the priorities of people in Wales who use care and support and carers.”
Speaking of the collaboration, Kathryn Marszalek, Analytical Manager for the Networked Data Lab said: “The Health Foundation’s Networked Data Lab brings together five analytical partners from across the UK, including NDL Wales, to understand and try to solve the toughest health and care issues facing the UK today, using linked data.
The first NDL analysis has examined the impact of the pandemic on the clinically extremely vulnerable population, a group that was disproportionately affected by the pandemic. Together partners have generated insights which can help drive improvements in services for these individuals.”
NDL Wales is expected to publish its first findings soon. Details of UK-wide analysis made possible by the NDL Collaboration can be found here: https://www.health.org.uk/sites/default/files/2020-12/ndl_statistical_analysis_plan_-_descriptive_analysis_of_cev_people_during_covid-19_0.pdf
The Networked Data Lab (NDL) was established and funded by the independent charity the Health Foundation and is the first network of its kind to focus on this sector, bringing together analytical teams from across the UK to develop a deeper understanding of the factors affecting people’s health and wellbeing across the UK.
NDL Wales is one of five UK wide teams that will work together to investigate health and social care questions to address the needs in their own locations, and when brought together, will provide a fuller picture of the demands and requirements on the sector throughout the UK.
In addition to the NDL Wales, there are four further NDL’s around the UK:
- The Aberdeen Centre for Health Data Science (ACHDS) includes NHS Grampian and the University of Aberdeen.
- Imperial College Health Partners (ICHP), Institute of Global Health Innovation (IGHI), Imperial College London (ICL), and North West London CCGs.
- Liverpool CCG, Healthy Wirral Partnership and Citizens Advice Bureau.
- Leeds CCG and Leeds City Council.
Central to the Network Data Lab is the commitment of parties involved to share freely the learnings and the code used to analysis, for others to use, to achieve impact at national and local level. To find out more about the Networked Data Lab here: https://www.health.org.uk/funding-and-partnerships/the-networked-data-lab