NHS England drills down into treatment data with cloud-based BI tool

NHS England is analysing data from 15 different national sources, with a BI tool delivered by PA Consulting using technology from Google and QlikTech

NHS England is using a cloud-based business intelligence (BI) tool to pool and analyse data from 15 different national data sources. The project, which won a Computer Weekly enterprise software award, was delivered by PA Consulting Group using technology from Google and QlikTech.

James Mucklow, IT delivery expert, PA Consulting Group (UK) says the system enables much faster analysis of health data by NHS England, which commissions treatment nationwide. 

He says using traditional technology – deploying servers and developing a BI front-end – would take months. With Google cloud analytics and a QlikView dashboard, the project team, using an agile methodology, built a nearly 100% system in a couple of days.

Mucklow gives an example of correlating two NHS data sets – one with one billion rows and 1,000 columns of NHS activities, the other all published prescription data for the past few years (2.2bn items) – to show a link between a class of anti-ulcer drugs and pneumonia admission to hospital. 

“We can show that in an hour that it reduces the cost by a factor of 100," said Mucklow.

The system currently has 1,800 users at NHS England, which spends around £100bn a year on health care. 

The executive management team of the commissioning board can now drill down from a national to a local view of healthcare delivery in a commissioning group. It means that the chief executive Sir David Nicholson, when visiting a Trust, can see how it is doing against national indicators on his iPad, says Mucklow.

The firm worked with QlikView and Google Enterprise on the project. NHS England’s job is to improve outcomes for patients by monitoring the effectiveness of commissioned treatment. 

But, says Mucklow, working with data on this scale has proven to be highly problematic in the past.

As a result, anomalies that should have automatically provoked urgent management attention – such as high mortality rates and anomalous trends in care provision – were not acted upon in time. The NHS England commissioning board decided it needed a “single version of the truth” that presents measures of success in a consistent and easy-to-use manner.

Under the government's G cloud framework, the board put the work out to tender, culminating in a “code off” with short-listed suppliers. This took place in Leeds late in October 2012. 

Teams were given a data set and scenario on a Thursday morning for delivery, of a dashboard, by Friday afternoon. The PA Consulting/QlikTech team, led by Paul Craig – “a big fan of agile” – ran 75-minute sprints, and delivered a dashboard that “scored 98.3% against the scenario criteria”.

They won the work and delivered the full system, which uses Google’s Enterprise Big Query to store the data with a QlikView front-end in April 2013.

The three-month project included weekly user-input sessions to get input and feedback from clinical and non-clinical users across the commissioning board. Another element was frequent releases of software which allowed users to see what the tool looked like and provide feedback.

The tool brings together 100 measures of success from over 15 different sources, covering NHS England and including A&E waiting times and mortality rates.

The costs of operating the platform are £2,000 a month.

Read more on Business intelligence and analytics