Paul Stroner gives an update on the work of the Association of Professional Healthcare Analysts, which aims to raise the standards for those working in analytical roles
Since joining the NHS in the mid 1990s I have been involved in the provision of a vast range of analytical products and services to support decision making at local, regional, and national organisations.
I joined the NHS as a research statistician in oncology; primarily involved in the design, conduct and analysis of phase III randomised controlled trials of new and innovative drug regimens across a range of solid tumours.
As you would expect, there are very strict and stringent procedures and criteria that guide the conduct and analysis of such studies. You are required to say up front how you will deal with data quality issues and you need to set out very clearly a pre-defined analysis plan, which you then follow.
All of these procedures have been developed and adjusted over many years to make sure that you are able to detect the clinically significant differences you designed the study for in the first place.
Of course, you would want the study designed with the appropriate level of statistical power, with input from suitably qualified and experienced staff to do the job.
When you are working to extend the knowledge base in your chosen area of scientific endeavour and need to have your work published in high impact, well respected peer reviewed journals you had better do it properly.
Skills and competencies
Compare this to the world of a jobbing NHS analyst in the majority of organisations across the country. Often working to a senior manager who has little or no understanding of the work they do, information and analytics is the “significant other” of a great number of finance and IT directorates.
The unspoken message handed down to heads of analysis is often one of “don’t drop the ball and I’ll leave you alone”.
If we expect the NHS to be able to embrace all the opportunities of artificial intelligence and data science and machine learning to the benefit of patients and wider society, then we need to build on a solid foundation of an appropriately skilled, competent and professional analytical workforce
You may or may not be surprised to hear that there are no agreed professional qualifications, skills or competencies needed to be an information analyst in the NHS. Just think about that for a while.
Can you imagine for a moment that it would be acceptable in finance, or nursing, or medicine or dentistry to employ unqualified people? Of course not, yet for many years we have been happy to do exactly that for analytical appointments.
Little wonder that these jobs can be difficult, lonely, frustrating and unrewarding experiences for people, and the outputs from analytical teams are at best variable.
But it doesn’t have to be like this. It can be better. It can be a lot better.
In 2012, the Association of Healthcare Professionals was created by two frustrated heads of business intelligence in the South West. Neither of us could hand on heart say with any confidence that the skill set of our respective analytical teams was appropriate to meet the needs of the business.
The aim was to raise the profile of healthcare analysts and provide a professional support network, ultimately achieving professional registration status for its members.
Fast forward seven years and we now have an infrastructure of agreed standards and competencies to be assessed against to become a registered analytical professional.
AphA is currently working in close collaboration with the national arm’s length bodies, NHS England, NHS Improvement, Health Education England, NHS Digital and Care Quality Commission to create a set of common job descriptions for analysts that can be utilised by all organisations.
The ultimate aim being that analysts will know what skills and competencies they need to progress along the career pathway and any employer knows what they need to provide to ensure that they are getting the most out of a valuable section of the workforce.
Once this has been tested with the ALBs, the intention is to roll it out to the rest of the NHS.
If we expect the NHS to be able to embrace all the opportunities of artificial intelligence and data science and machine learning to the benefit of patients and wider society, then we need to build on a solid foundation of an appropriately skilled, competent and professional analytical workforce.
AphA’s aim is to raise the profile of healthcare analysts and provide a professional support network, ultimately achieving professional registration status for its members, and to drive up the quality and applicability of robust analytics as an aid to evidence based decision making in a modern health and care system.
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