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WWL hospital sees savings in visual analytics



Feature: Wrightington, Wigan and Leigh NHS Foundation Trust is providing pictures of business intelligence from the chief executive’s office to A&E

A major NHS organisation in the North-West says a focus on analytics is beginning to deliver results in terms of cost savings and benefits to patients.

“The savings we are making, by everything from better use of expensive theatre time to other efficiencies, adds up to hundreds of thousands of pounds, and in fact we’re on track for millions,” says the internal NHS IT practitioner leading the project, business intelligence (BI) specialist Mark Singleton.

He works for Wrightington, Wigan and Leigh (WWL) NHS Foundation Trust, one of only a handful of health service organisations to meet the government’s four-hour maximum wait target for A&E departments last year (and was the only acute trust in Greater Manchester so to do).

WWL says a big part of that success is down to its use of visual analytics, using a tool from business intelligence software firm Qlik, in supporting efficiency drives. This has helped to cut average A&E wait times by 30 minutes, reduce commissioner fines and make it less reliant on expensive nursing agency staff.

The savings are being re-invested back in the trust’s services to improve patient care and upgrade equipment.

Beginnings in finance

Singleton says that, although the software being used was purchased for the finance section in 2009, its potential for wider applications was only recognised by the trust’s leadership about two years ago.

Since then, he and the rest of the dedicated BI team have been busy searching for ways to save costs and improve patient care by identifying patterns in the various component hospitals and clinics in Wrightington, Wigan and Leigh’s data.

One result was a dedicated A&E app that is helping frontline staff better manage the flow of patients by presenting visualisations of what is going on.

Senior WWL management are also using the system to better support their management decisions, he says, all part of a complete sea change in the way the organisation now works with information.

“Data is no longer seen as just a way to monitor what’s happened yesterday, but is now appreciated and seen as a key commodity in helping with pressures faced both today and the future,” he says.

“App development started in finance, but now we now have a large range of (analytics) apps which support our clinical services and their delivery of safe, effective care.

“Each app has been designed and developed in conjunction with our staff and clinicians to ensure they remain relevant to their work and healthcare. And as the majority of the apps contain real time intelligence, users can reflect and get answers to their questions there and then.”

Real time updates

To make results visible and usable to all staff across the trust, as well as patients and the public, a large 70-inch touchscreen has been installed at the heart of the A&E department.

Included in the key information it displays are the number of patients due through the door and the proportion likely to need a bed, as well as patient acuity and their historic admissions information to provide a greater understanding of their likely recovery time.

“The dashboard is accessible, as well as easy to understand and use,” comments a clinical user, Dr Stephen Gulliford, an A&E consultant at the trust.

“It allows a clear, visible, real time update of the situation across the trust at any given time, from unscheduled care through to the provision/adjustment of appropriate workforce and resources to meet the demand.” 

“Knowing how many patients are likely to be admitted provides us with a forward look on bed availability, and flags potential capacity issues in the days or weeks to come - something very pertinent to the financial challenges the NHS is facing with reductions in acute beds,” confirms Rob Forster, director of finance and IM&T and deputy chief executive officer at WWL.

“All those who have seen the application – from our own staff to visitors such as NHS England, the media and a member of Parliament – have commented that they haven’t seen such sophisticated software in this environment. That’s why we strongly believe it is cutting edge innovation within healthcare. 

“We are incredibly proud that it’s been produced by us – an NHS trust with just NHS employees,” he adds.

“But we are even more proud of the difference it has made to our services and local population, helping WWL to become one of the best performing A&E departments in the country.”

Best of breed 

The trust’s chief executive, Andrew Foster, has a similar screen in his office that is usually set to the A&E system so that he can “see at a glance how we are doing right now and what we expect to happen in the coming hours”.

“It’s like having a ‘weather station’ in my office,” he enthuses, while also praising the data he can get access to via the BI system. This includes information on past performance by day, month and quarter, productivity by consultant and other key organisational metrics.

“We live in the age of information, and it is great to see our very talented local business intelligence department creating these best of breed, real time management systems.”

Singleton’s next priority is to share the apps with other NHS organisations that think they could find them equally useful, he told UKAuthority.

Image from WWL NHS Foundation Trust

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