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A model way to avoid an NHS winter crisis?


As the NHS faces a £2.2billion deficit and another winter A&E crisis, researchers at Brunel University London are to use real data from an NHS region to produce a computer model to help hospital managers plan objectively.

Explained project lead Dr David Bell of the Department of Computer Science: “As a scientist I like to see hard evidence. From an ageing population to bed-blocking, changes to the GP out-of-hours service to a lack of budget to inappropriate referral, all have been suggested as causes but by vested interests.

“So what we are going to do, for the first time, is produce a whole system model using data from across the piece - GP surgeries, hospital departments and social and community care. We’ll also be able to simulate stressing the system at various points and see which factors are the real culprits.”

Dr Bell will be working with two industry partners SIMUL8 and The Whole Systems Partnership using data from the Hillingdon Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG). And they hope to release their first results within weeks.

All are members of the Brunel-hosted Cumberland Initiative (CI), an international, cross-disciplinary group of doctors, nurses, academics and industry practitioners who use systems thinking with computer modelling and simulation to solve difficult healthcare issues.

CI lead Professor Terry Young said: “Even a preliminary analysis of the NHS’s own figures for the winter A&E crisis shows that the simple growth in numbers attending A&E in winter 2014/15 is unlikely to be completely to blame.

“While last winter was undoubtedly a busy winter, attendance at A&E departments was actually lower than in preceding summers.

“This important piece of research by David and his team will help us properly understand across a whole health system exactly what and where things are going wrong.

“Using such big data techniques is common across industry for equally complex issues

Ian Goodman, Chair of Hillingdon CCG Ian Goodman said: “The CCG and local health providers in Hillingdon already work very closely together to manage the care for patients registered with Hillingdon GPs. However, increasing demand for urgent care is putting local services under significant strain. It is important that actions we take to manage this situation are the actions that will have most impact. Working with Cumberland, which is part of Brunel University, to assess the whole system is key to our being able to achieve this.”