Meet the experts: Frontline insight helps Chris understand the challenge information departments face

Chris Duncalf has worked in the NHS for over 17 years. He held a variety of roles including information analyst, data warehouse manager, business analyst, and information manager, before becoming head of information at Southport and Ormskirk Hospital NHS Trust. He is now head of strategic products at Dr Foster.

Chris Duncalf, Head of Strategic Products

Bringing frontline insight to data analysis

My role as head of information within the NHS covered a wide portfolio of services, such as data quality, analytics, business intelligence, and information governance. I was essentially the organisational lead for all things information. That job and my other roles in the NHS have given me a strong understanding of how organisations function. It’s all very well being able to take a view of statistics but knowing what that actually means, what a consultant or nurse has had to do to generate that, what it means for the patient’s journey – that adds a huge amount of value. It’s not just numbers, it brings the information to life.

It also means I have a significant amount of empathy for the person on the other side of the table – I’ve been there, so they are talking to someone who understands the pressures. I can put the information in context – I know what the clinical pathways look like and how patients move around the system, or indeed don’t.

Insider knowledge of challenges

A lot of the same challenges I faced I can see others still facing. When I worked in the NHS I experienced pressure to deliver more information and do that in a more timely way, and I don’t think that pressure will go away.

I believe, though, that it’s not about having more information but more useful information – none of the data is of use to anyone unless someone takes the insight and turns it into action. I think that’s a frustration for a lot of information departments – they are asked to provide this data but if the service or department they’re providing it to doesn’t take action, then it won’t improve.

Data literacy is a challenge too – these things aren’t always easy to interpret. It’s not about looking at these indicators in isolation but seeing their wider significance and how they link to other things that are happening.

Experience improves efficiency

My experience working in the NHS shapes the work I undertake today. I recently worked with a trust on a project on A&E and patient flow in urgent care, and my previous role as a business analyst embedded within the medicine division was hugely helpful. Having been around an emergency floor and knowing the delays, why people would or wouldn’t get admitted and may or may not stay overnight – all that helped me to focus on the more pertinent points for this particular analysis. I can home in on the areas of interest from the outset and deliver more insight.

Find out more about the latest projects Chris and the team at Dr Foster have been working on here

It also means I have a significant amount of empathy for the person on the other side of the table – I’ve been there, so they are talking to someone who understands the pressures.