As part of a researcher-in-residence program established in partnership between Cardiff University and the Aneurin Bevan University Health Board, mathematical modelling helps improve services in the health system. To date, this has resulted in a cost saving of at least £12.1 million, and lead to an improvement in care for patients.

The quality of care, patient satisfaction and morale of clinical staff in the healthcare sector are all suffering as a result of the ever-increasing demand for medical services whilst capacity remains stagnant. This is particularly true of the British National Health Service (NHS).

Since 2014, part of Cardiff University's Operational Research (OR) group has been working in close partnership with the Aneurin Bevan University Health Board (ABUHB) as part of a unique collaborative program. The center piece is the establishment of an initial four-person team of post-doctoral mathematicians (with a specialization in OR) within the ABUHB Continuous Improvement Department. This researcher-in-residence program provides the mathematicians with unrestricted data access and ongoing dialogue with health care professionals, physicians, senior managers, and financial planners. The mathematicians work closely with these NHS staff to develop OR tools for daily practice, train NHS staff in their use, build simulation models, provide model-based decision support for strategic and operational planning, and help implement measures in practice.

On 11 November 2021, the Health Modelling team was awarded the Lyn Thomas Impact Medal. "We are incredibly pleased to receive this award. As it is evident from the results, the use of Operational Research methods has proven to be successful. They help reduce costs and make work more effective. I believe that we can also use these methods to achieve great success in Austria," says Prof Doris Behrens, Head of the Department of Economics and Health and a long-standing member of the Welsh team of mathematicians.

To transform the health care system

The goal was to improve the quality of care and health outcomes for the 650,000 people served by ABUHB. More than 150 projects have made a positive difference in the efficiency, effectiveness and equity of health care delivery, as well as in appointment scheduling and patient safety. Six of these projects have been singled out for the Lyn Thomas Impact Medal, saving more than £12.1 million to date. These include the successful model-based adaptation of the structure and equipment of emergency care between 6 p.m. and 6 a.m., optimized scheduling and scheduling of all ABUHB operating rooms, and proactive workforce planning during the first and second COVID waves.

"The use of modelling techniques has become an integral part of health service planning and delivery within ABUHB. Meanwhile, healthcare providers in other parts of the UK and in countries such as Germany are also benefiting from it, having adopted tools developed by our team," says operational research methods expert Doris Behrens.

Training for staff

The modelling team has also developed a series of hands-on training courses tailored to the needs of NHS staff. Hands-on skills in Microsoft Excel, for example, enable employees to gain low-threshold access to better understand their own data (and thus make better decisions), perform simple statistical tests, and use statistical process control. To date, more than 350 attendees from the NHS Wales staff have completed these training courses.

In 2017, the OR team also launched the Analytics and Modelling Academy (AMA) program. This ten-month training program introduces NHS staff to a range of OR skills, techniques and their applicability, making them "ambassadors for the possibilities of mathematical modelling within the NHS". The encouraging corollary is that the three cohorts of AMA graduates to date (both managers and clinical staff) have learned to carry out their own modelling projects under guidance, and to put the recommended actions into practice. Over the years, these projects have had an important impact on patient safety, by adding pharmacy and therapy staff in the emergency department, by predicting planned care needs for the 65+ population (by region), and by developing a decision support tool to assist in the planning of planned orthopaedic procedures.

Lyn Thomas Impact Medal

Each year, the Lyn Thomas Impact Medal is awarded to the scientific operational research in the United Kingdom that has proven best to have both novelty and a positive impact on the real world.


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