NHS at risk of losing a generation of data analysts

Posted : September 27, 2022 - / /

Young NHS analysts have little access to Continuing Professional Development (CPD) as a
time when national policy is calling for a major expansion of NHS analytical activity. A new
survey by the Association of Professional Healthcare Analysts of its members shows that
83% of newer Band 5 analysts have not been given funded CPD and only 21% work for an
NHS organisation that is very supportive of CPD.

Andi Orlowski, President of AphA said, “These findings undermine everything the NHS is
saying about the future role of analysts in the NHS. National policy quite rightly is to grow
our ability to make better use of data to improve the quality of patient care and outcomes
and make better population health decisions. But the new generation of data analysts has
little or no access to CPD through their employers. Even established and committed
analysts are mostly getting development in their own time, at their own expense and on
their own initiative.”

“If the NHS wants to lead the world in health data and analytics, and make the
breakthroughs in using data to improve healthcare and population wellbeing, it has got to
take the professionals doing the work seriously. It is essential that we invest in the new
generation of analysts working in the NHS and do everything we can to build on their skills
and commitment especially as this is a highly competitive marketplace and their skills are
very attractive and easily transferrable to other employers.”

The strategy, Data saves lives: reshaping health and social care with data,
was published in June 2022 and rightly states ”The use of NHS data was at the forefront of
this country’s fight against coronavirus (COVID-19), helping us to remove restrictions and
return on the path to normal life….Insights and evidence drawn from data gives leaders an
accurate understanding of the health and care system to develop better policy and
guidance, and provide better oversight and national assurance….this will require good
quality data and data systems to underpin effective working across multiple local

The AphA survey was undertaken a month later and shows analysts are committed and over
75% are somewhat likely or very likely to be working in the NHS in 3 years’ time. But
without professional development and organisation they will not be able to add the full
value they are capable of. Government policy is encouraging and full of ambition, but
without a professional approach to developing the skilled data specialists the ambitions rely
on, then the gap between ambition and delivery will not close.

AphA wants clear commitment from all NHS organisations to provide financial support and
dedicated training time for their analytical workforce. This might not be a small ask, but it’s
certainly a reasonable one. Organisations like the Midlands Decision Support Network
(MDSN) are already providing continuing development to analysts across the region, thanks
to local ICS funding – why can’t functions like these exist in all four corners of the country?
We want to see support and funding for the grassroots organisations who continue to shine
a bright light on the career paths of thousands of NHS analysts. NHSR Community, PyCOM
and AphA were all highlighted in the Goldacre review for the invaluable support they offer
through training and development opportunities, but we can’t expect these groups to work
alone. They need a bigger bulb.

We want system leaders to understand what a high functioning analytical team looks like,
and how to nurture one. For this, the Strategy Unit – a high functioning NHS analytical team
hosted by the Midlands and Lancashire CSU – provides some essential background reading. I
suggest settling down with their latest report, a practical guide for advancing analytical
capability across the NHS.

We also need any centrally supported training opportunities to become increasingly aligned
with the development of the National Competency Framework for Data Professionals, to
support our goal of professionalisation for analysts. And we want central support from NHS
England in our bid for professionalisation too, so system leaders and decision makers can
trust the insights their analysts produce, improving the quality of strategic decision-making.
Finally, organisational and system leaders, might I make a plea to you? Sit down with your
analysts and find out who they really are. Ask what they actually “do” for us, what support
they need, and explore the lifesaving work they could achieve, given the opportunity. Let
me assure you, these conversations will leave you feeling inspired and excited. Just
remember to take some minutes from your meetings, and please – don’t forget to follow up
on your actions.

You can find the CPD survey results here – CPD Survey Result

Full data also available here – Raw Data in Excel Format