A joint team from Queen’s and HSCNI Business Services Organisation (BSO) has been selected by the Health Foundation, an independent charity, to be part of the first round of its new £1.2 million pounds data analytics programme.
How cancer is diagnosed can be an important predictor of survival. There is some evidence to suggest, from research carried out in England, that the route to diagnosis is important in cancer outcomes. For example, patients diagnosed after a referral from their GP or after a cancer screening test are more likely to be diagnosed with earlier disease, tend to need fewer and less-invasive treatments and have better survival rates. Researchers will study hospital records to identify patterns and trends in routes to diagnosis and how they link with patient outcomes.
Dr Finian Bannon, Lecturer in Medical Statistics at the Centre for Public Health at Queen’s, said: “Despite improvements in cancer survival, cancer is the leading cause of death in Northern Ireland. By determining the routes patients take through the healthcare system before receiving a cancer diagnosis, this project has potential to highlight variation across a range of different variables such as age, deprivation, health geography, providing a valuable evaluation and monitoring tool for HSC professionals and policy makers to understand better where we can best focus our efforts to improve outcomes.”
Liam McIvor, Chief Executive of BSO, said: “We are delighted to get this opportunity to work with our academic partners in Queen’s to help improve future outcomes for cancer patients locally while at the same time developing our analytical capability for enhanced patient care. Cancer affects the lives of many people in Northern Ireland and is one of the major challenges facing the Health and Social Care system. Research aimed at helping us to better understand how to improve outcomes for patients is essential.”
This information will be important to help understand how Northern Ireland health services are meeting the challenges of early cancer diagnosis. It will also help in planning services and interventions that are effective in supporting early cancer diagnosis - like cancer awareness campaigns, increasing access to diagnostic services or encouraging people to take up screening.
The study will also identify groups who are more likely to be diagnosed at emergency, and will help to increase the number of patients whose cancer is found earlier.
Debbie Keatley, a member of NI Cancer Research Consumer Forum, said: “I know how important early diagnosis can be. When I was diagnosed with breast cancer it had already spread to nearby lymph nodes. For me, this meant that as well as surgery and radiotherapy I needed chemotherapy too. If I had been diagnosed earlier I might not have needed this and while I’m grateful to be a cancer survivor, I live with the consequences of treatment.
"As a patient advocate I meet many people living with long-term effects that really impact their day-to-day life and I have lost too many friends whose cancer could not be cured. I’m really thrilled to be involved in this work being done in Northern Ireland - from speeding up diagnosis to improving patient care; making the most of the data we already have can help save lives."
The research is funded by the UK Health Foundation Advancing Applied Analytics Programme and aims to improve analytical capability to support health and care services. The programme is supporting a range of projects in the UK and involves collaboration between health services and academia all working together to improve patient outcomes.
Martin Bardsley, Senior Fellow at the Health Foundation, said: “We developed this programme with the aim of helping health and care services show how better analysis can lead to better health and care. There was a lot of interest, and we reviewed many good quality applications before selecting the final 12 projects from across the UK to be part of this first wave of funding."
All research analysis will take place in the Honest Broker Service (HBS) secure research safe haven. The HBS is based in Business Services Organisation and allows access to anonymised health and social care data for approved research projects.
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