North East blog

ANNE Health and Care Event July – Just what the doctor ordered

Returning once more to Newcastle University’s Urban Sciences Building the second Analyst Network North East (ANNE) event of 2019 took an exciting new direction, going down in history as ANNE’s first themed conference.  “Health and Care” was the topic with a range of presentations from subject experts across the North East attracting a diverse audience of analysts from the public, private and third sectors, many of whom were attending their first ANNE conference – we hope it won’t be their last!
Once delegates were settled into the auditorium our very own Jim Butler commenced proceedings.  After noting the subtle name change (previous events having been advertised as ANNE followed by the season of the conference...) he gave an overview of the network, which continues to go from strength to strength, before introducing the first speakers.
The first talk was given jointly by Anna Christie and Gillian Bryant from Public Health England (PHE).  The presentation was broken into two parts, with Anna speaking first to introduce the work of PHE and in particular the Local Knowledge and Information Service (LKIS).  This small but productive team undertakes local analysis leading to a range of useful products and services being delivered for the benefit of local people.  Training and workshops are run to promote the importance of health intelligence and the reports and infographics are available online – well worth a search!  Following this, Gillian dived more deeply into a specific example of PHE’s work, giving us a taste of ‘Life Expectancy and Mortality in the North East’.  She talked us through the approaches and techniques used to provide not only the actual life expectancies of people in the region but also, perhaps more importantly, the contributing factors.  This prompted quite a bit of discussion around health and the socio-economic factors that can affect it.  In particular there were a few north-eastern males in the audience who may have sat up and taken note of what not to do in their 30s if they want to see their 80s!
Next up, Dr Andrea Brown from North East Quality Observatory Science (NEQOS) discussed the development of NICE indicators.  These measures, governed by the National Institute for health and Care Excellence (NICE), are much more than just “nice” to have – they are succinct measures that aim to describe as much about a system as possible in as few points as possible.  We were taken through some of the difficulties around designing a successful NICE indicator, and the stages that are required for one to be signed off for use by the health services.  It was also stressed that interpretation is key – good performance indicators don’t always translate into good patient care, and attention must be paid to ensure that indicators cannot be ‘gamed’. 
Following a refreshments break, Professor Paul Burton from Newcastle University’s Institute of Health and Society kicked off the second session with the intriguingly titled talk, “Health Data Analytics in the North East; Data Safe Havens, TREes and TruDals”.  He introduced us to the idea of a learning health system, where data is pulled together on the effect of initiatives which can then provide feedback loops to further enhance care and improve interventions.  He highlighted the importance of sound data governance in ensuring that this live environment is realised, explaining the curation pipeline that data flows through on its journey.  We also heard about the Connected Health Cities Project; a multi-million pound project across the North of England to improve the pathways for data to travel from primary care providers through to environments that allow for generalised analysis.
Due to unforeseen circumstances the scheduled presentation from the Care Quality Commission had to be postponed at short notice.  However, stepping into the breach Aoife O’Neil gave an introduction to R-ladies Newcastle, as well as a general overview of the R programming language.  Although R is increasingly used across the world by many different analytical groups and professions, only 9% of R package owners and 28% of R conference attendees are women.  R-ladies is a global initiative (45 countries and counting) set up to address this under-representation of women and minority genders, and R-ladies Newcastle is the new and exciting local chapter.  Their goal is to increase the diversity of R-users in Newcastle by providing training as well as a welcoming community.  They are now meeting on the first Tuesday of the month and can be found on the web and Twitter, so anybody interested should get in touch.
Following Aoife, our own Steve Caughey gave an overview of the new National Innovation Centre for Data (NICD) that is nearing completion.  This centre will be based in a striking new building at Newcastle University (nicknamed ‘The Casino’) and works with customers to grow, build, and maximise their data and analytical capabilities.  They host a variety of events, not least DataJam – any analysts looking to have a positive impact should look it up!
Drawing the day to a close, Elliott White advertised ANNE committee positions that will be available soon.  ANNE, as the north-east branch of the OR Society, aims to bring together analysts from across the north east.  The more diverse a committee we have the more representative and ultimately successful we should be with this aim.  If you would like to get involved in setting ANNE’s future direction then consider applying for the post of either co-chair or secretary.  Feel free to contact any committee member for more information.

ANNE Summer Event Showcases the Strength of Analytics in the North East

Following a successful jaunt down to Darlington in February, Analyst Network North East (ANNE) made a storming return back to Newcastle for its June event. The bright and modern Urban Sciences Building of Newcastle University provided the setting, with more than 70 delegates in attendance representing over 20 different organisations. The event certainly proved to be an ANNE Summer Spectacular!

After a few minutes to admire the stunning atrium and peruse stands from our sponsor, the OR Society, as well as from our friends at LARIA NE (thanks for the cookies!) and the RSS, Aleks Bobrowska kicked off the event with a quick update on ANNE’s growing network. Membership is now up above 200. There are links to over 30 organisations spread across the public, private and academic sectors and our social media presence continues to expand. It seems safe to say that ANNE is in fine fettle as it continues to grow and provide networking opportunities for analysts across the region.

The first talk was given jointly by Newcastle University academics Jennine Jonczyk and Luke Smith, who introduced us to the Urban Observatory. We learnt that Newcastle is now bristling with over 600 sensors, measuring 58 variables to allow researchers to understand better how the city ticks. This allows the Urban Observatory to monitor a wide range of environmental indicators from air quality, to water quality, biodiversity and traffic. All of the data is freely available - so there are plenty of opportunities there to get involved! (Oh, and just in case you’re worried about Big Brother, we were assured that humans are reduced to nothing more than anonymous faceless rectangles. Come to think of it, I’m not sure that is less worrying…)

Next up, Nadine Morrisroe from the NHS Business Services Authority spoke about an award winning data lab tasked with saving the NHS over one billion pounds. The lab tackles some hugely impactful issues - such as ensuring that antibiotics are prescribed sensibly to avoid contributing unnecessarily to the emergence of “super-bugs” and how to identify fraud. We also heard about the NHS’s quest to minimise waste by switching to mostly e-prescriptions. Nadine showed us how analysis can identify which business areas need targeting to achieve this aim and how text analytics are being used to measure people’s satisfaction with prepaid prescription services.

Following the first session’s talks, we split into small groups for a networking session. Within each group, attendees were encouraged to have a five-minute chat with someone they hadn’t met before and then rotate around at the sound of a bell. Many interesting discussions ensued, many of which spilled over into the coffee break – surely a good sign of connections being forged!

After refreshments, Colin Gillespie from Jumping Rivers, gave a discussion on the benefits of open source software (OSS). He addressed commonly held fears that OSS is less secure than its paid-for competitors, whilst extolling its virtues - not least the huge benefit of economy of scale in terms of users and contributors. Focusing on “R”, examples were given of how OSS can be hugely beneficial to statisticians and we heard that the CRAN repository of R modules continues to grow at pace to provide an ever-expanding toolbox for the savvy analyst to exploit.

The final talk was given by Sarah Sharp from the Valuation Office Agency (VOA), who told the engaging tale of her career in analysis (so far!). Having performed a wide variety of roles spread across the public, private and academic sectors, Sarah has a wealth of experience from which to draw valuable advice. At the end of her talk, Sarah imparted some of her learned wisdom. There were too many tips to fully do justice in this short review, but one stood out as particularly pertinent – “It’s all about relationships”. Bringing together analysts to build relationships and add to the vibrancy, creativity and general success of the analytic professions in the North East is what ANNE is all about, so this provided a very fitting end to another successful ANNE event!

Next up for ANNE is our Autumn Event, which will be hosted by Durham University Business School on Wednesday 3 October 2018. Keep an eye on your inboxes for further details, or if you would like to connect with us you can find us on Twitter @AnalystNetNE or join the group on LinkedIn ‘Analyst Network North East’. We hope to see you in Durham!

Michael Hogan

Operation Research Analyst, Valuation Office Agency