The Advanced Analytics Group for Wales (AAG) was set up in 2019, aiming to accelerate and highlight the development of advanced analytics capability across health and care in Wales. The group is made up of over 30 of Wales’ leading data science and informatics professionals, including representatives from NWIS (NHS Wales Informatics Service), Welsh Government, ONS (Office for National Statistics), Health Boards, and local authorities.
Co-ordinated by the Digital Health Ecosystem Wales (DHEW) and the National Data Resource team, the group was established to support and drive progress across Wales’s digital health ecosystem, with a view to meeting the strategic priorities set out in the Welsh Government’s Statement of Intent: Better use of health and care data for safe, effective care and efficient service.
This aims to promote a more data-driven health and care system, focussing on enhancing data collection and quality, improving skills and resources, developing digital solutions to support implementation and management, and developing a framework for managing, using, and sharing data. The Advanced Analytics Group was created as part of the National Data Resource work programme to achieve these aims.
Aim of AAG
The AAG aims to streamline, organise, and refocus priorities to enhance efficiency across Wales’ health and care ecosystem. With numerous stakeholders making up the healthcare sector across Wales -, Welsh Government, NWIS, clinicians, social care providers, hospitals, GP clusters, and more - communications between these groups can quickly become complex.
The transformation of health and care delivery through digital technology relies on increasing amounts of data and analysis. Analysts and teams across health and care have been developing exciting and innovative ways to improve sharing data, supporting clinicians and care professionals, and improving patient outcomes and it was identified that sharing of projects, experience, and best practice was a priority.
Alongside this, there is a growing chasm between clinicians and those in patient-facing roles, and the data science community – both of whom are reliant on health and care data but could communicate more effectively in order to utilise it fully.
As such, the AAG aims to provide a strategic and technical focus to bridge this gap, and support stakeholders in becoming more organised, coordinated, and efficient in how they work. The AAG works to ensure Wales’s health and care sector has the right experts looking at the right problems, and ensuring the right problems are being dealt with the right resources.
One of the main issues identified by those involved was the lack of organisation and coordination among Wales’s health and care analytics ecosystem.
Dave Pearton (Senior Business Analyst at NWIS) said: “There are a number of organisations, governance groups, individuals and teams, regional health boards and hospitals involved. When you look at how they interact, there are different teams who reach out to different organisations and it becomes complex.
“There’s a lack of prioritisation, requests might go into the team as a priority, but because it hasn’t been through a prioritisation process there is no way of determining that.
“That resource could be looking at something more important. AAG allows you to take a birds-eye view and streamline the process for those involved.”
Chair of the AAG, Dr. Sally Lewis (National Clinical Lead for Value-Based and Prudent Healthcare at Aneurin Bevan UHB), also identified a lack of communication between health service professionals and the data science community as a major issue.
She said: “There was a bit of a disconnect between the data science community and health service professionals who need to be asking the questions of the data. That meant there was frustration on both sides.
“The health service professionals need the information to make decisions, but don’t know who to ask, or how to ask the question.
“On the other side, we have a talented data science community who are hungry to receive the questions but don’t have that exposure.
“We recognised the need to build a bridge between those communities and create a common language, so that we could ask the right questions to the data science community, and generate information and knowledge so that we could have a truly data-driven decision-making process.”
Dave also added that the coronavirus pandemic had led to the displacement of numerous patient procedures, which was now impacting service prioritisation and efficiency.
He said: “We switched off a lot of services as a result of COVID - the wave of a pandemic saw people displaced, with pre-planned operations delayed. Due to coronavirus, we’ve closed down services and now we need to start opening them up.
“So, the challenge is how do we open them up, which do we restart, what services do we open first.
“That has inevitably been having an impact on service planning and resource prioritisation as we start to resume some resemblance of normality.”
The first priority for the group is to create a catalogue of health and care data innovation across Wales, including advanced analytics, data science, machine learning, AI, and big data.
Once this has been created the group will then examine the priorities and see how these can be supported, to ensure resources and expertise are properly allocated. These priorities can also inform the technology, standards, and infrastructure needed to implement AI and data science in a consistent and scalable way, which the AAG plans to look at.
Sally commented on this stage saying: “We have initially been tasked with cataloguing any data science or advanced analytical activity going on across Wales, while recognising pockets of excellence and expertise. By highlighting the necessary skills, the AAG can accelerate progress in this area.”
One of the most vital lessons the team identified as part of the AAG was the importance of using the high-quality data provided to influence clinical decision making.
Both Dave and Sally said it was crucial that health services learned how to utilise advanced analytics techniques to support their service implementation, or it would devalue, and detrimentally impact the data collection process.
Sally said: “That’s really important because if we as clinicians, managers, etc. are not seeing the value of the high-quality data entry, we won’t do it well, and we will devalue the NDR because we won’t have access to high-level data, and won’t be able to do these advanced analytical techniques anyway.“
As the AAG is at the start of its developing work programme, Dave said that as they progressed it was crucial that the AAG became more regimental in its approach to communication across Wales’ health organisations.
He said: “Sometimes there’s too much emphasis on technology, we need to organise ourselves better and get a bit more regimental in the way we plan and communicate with each other.
“With better organisation and communication, we can be supporting and resourcing projects and initiatives a lot better and more efficiently.
“Population health is also a priority as that what will manage and drive our services in a post-COVID world.”
Sally said that going forwards she would like to see more “high-profile” work being created to emphasise the possibilities of AAG.
She said: “I would like to see high impact pieces of work coming through that generate enthusiasm for this at every level of the system, so people can see the art of the possible.
“We started a lot of engagement activities in policy healthcare management and with clinicians, to enable that to happen. The pandemic accelerated that in a way, people are beginning to understand that we do have data and we can turn that into very useful information that has high value.
“I would envisage a widening of this, and a network of advanced analytics groups and work communicating and learning from each other across Wales, to help us drive this forward.”
Visit our Advanced Analytics Group page for more information on the work of the group and how you can get involved