Is the NHS missing a huge opportunity to boost patient care?

15th December 2022

As we move into the big data age, Civica’s Tracey Cotterill looks at how health organisations can drive better value from their costing data

Our NHS Trusts invest a huge amount of time and effort in the mandatory national cost collection. But many organisations are simply not using this data effectively, even though it could be used to build a bigger picture across a Trust, or indeed a wider system, to ultimately improve patient care and experience. It could also help to demonstrate the long-held view, supported by the Getting It Right First Time (GIRFT) programme, that high quality care costs less in the long term.

All in the planning

The NHS holds huge amounts of costing data but it’s often housed across disconnected systems – making the planning process harder for finance managers. But smart technology, such as forecasting platforms, can help. By taking into consideration waiting lists, planned activity and expected demand, managers can make activity planning simpler, while also correlating the data with waiting lists so they can understand the impact of demand over multiple years.

By using costing data effectively, we can look at what resources are really needed to make activity plans happen – from bed days to theatre minutes. You can see if you have sufficient capacity to deliver the plan by month or week and even flex your plan to give credibility to the planning round, showing that it’s tied into operational performance. This will ultimately mean true triangulation between activity, money and resources – all automated, easy to use and with a full audit trail.

High quality costs less

The GIRFT principle works on the basis that patients should receive timely and effective care wherever it’s delivered (irrespective of who delivers that care). It aims to find examples from across the NHS that improve outcomes and patient experience and reduces unwarranted variation, without the need for radical change or additional investment. There’s no disputing that high quality costs less in the long term with reduced return appointments and hospital stays.

But I would argue that globally the health sector has not been very effective to date at quantifying quality metrics alongside financial data. We’re currently looking at ways to bring more quality data into the picture. This would provide a wealth of data to help make better decisions around transformation. While we can currently only see where episodes of care have been more expensive, we’ll be able to tie this in with patient experience and care quality too. For example, when we find unwarranted variations in the costing, we’ll be able to match this against reported quality and safety incidents.

By bringing both the financial and quality data together, we can help support better decision making, drive higher efficiency and value, while improving quality and safety.

Our NHS is undoubtedly heading into a winter full of challenges, with long waiting lists, more emergency attendances and increased acuity. True visibility of what lies ahead is now essential; using the costing data smartly to understand how even small changes can make a big difference could prove crucial.

Tracey Cotterill is Divisional MD at Civica Canada