Ambulance in the snow depicting NHS winter pressures

Health data: How researchers are addressing NHS winter pressures

Innovative new ways of better understanding and combatting NHS winter pressures have been developed off the back of a range of research studies.

Early last year, Health Data Research UK (HDR UK) announced 16 projects would be launched to harness the power of rapid data-driven approaches to identify ways of tackling winter pressures in the healthcare system.

Included in the research was a project led from academic and NHS experts from Birmingham, which developed a prediction tool to improve the management of patient flow through same day emergency care.

Researchers highlight that previously developed tools have been for specific populations and have not translated well into more diverse urban areas.

A team led by the University of Birmingham’s Professor Elizabeth Sapey is currently working with the NHS to understand how the workforce will be impacted by the introduction of their new tool.

“Winter is an especially difficult time for the NHS each year…”

Another project centred around how machine learning could be exploited to predict risk deterioration in patients at A&E.

Researchers led by Dr Darren Green at Northern Care Alliance NHS Foundation Trust used early vital signs and other tests to create a model that could reduce alert fatigue and identify high-risk patients with a lower national early warning score 2.

Strategy director at HDR UK, Dr Rhos Walker, says: “Winter is an especially difficult time for the NHS each year, and this programme has continued to demonstrate how harnessing the power of routinely collected healthcare data can help to better understand and find solutions to the underlying causes of pressures on the health service.”

Another study used the health records of more than five million people in Scotland to investigate the risk of hospitalisation from acute respiratory infections.

A research study spearheaded by Professor Sir Aziz Sheikh out of the University of Edinburgh found that younger children, older adults, people from deprived backgrounds, and those with health conditions were most at risk.

“Much was learnt from undertaking this innovative approach…”

Each research project was paired with a policy analyst who worked for either the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC), the Office for National Statistics, or the UK Health Security Agency.

The idea behind this approach was to act as a proof of principle, maximise policy relevance, and strengthen links between the research ecosystem and policymakers.

“Much was learnt from undertaking this innovative approach that will be taken forward as HDR UK continues in our commitment to delivering data insights at a pace to inform policy and practice,” explains Dr Walker.

The projects were funded by the government through the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR).

Scientific director for NIHR programmes, Professor Danny McAuley, adds: “The evidence all of the research teams have collected will be crucial in helping to tackle a range of challenges such as preventing illness, freeing up vital time and resources for NHS staff, and reducing hospital admissions and stays.”

The NIHR emphasises that each of the studies are at different places, but the findings so far indicate their potential to address winter pressures in the future.

HDR UK’s Dr Lara Edwards featured in National Health Executive detailing how combining the power of data, machine learning and AI could help lead the NHS’s winter response last year.

Image credit: iStock

NHE March/April 2024

NHE March/April 2024

A window into the past, present and future of healthcare leadership.

- Steve Gulati, University of Birmingham 

More articles...

View all
Online Conference


2024 Online Conferences

In partnership with our community of health sector leaders responsible for delivering the UK's health strategy across the NHS and the wider health sector, we’ve devised a collaborative calendar of conferences and events for industry leaders to listen, learn and collaborate through engaging and immersive conversation. 

All our conferences are CPD accredited, which means you can gain points to advance your career by attending our online conferences. Also, the contents are available on demand so you can re-watch at your convenience.

National Health Executive Podcast

Ep 42. Leadership in the NHS

In episode 42 of the National Health Executive podcast we were joined by Steve Gulati who is an associate professor at the University of Birmingham as well as director of healthcare leadership at the university’s Health Services Management Centre.