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New cancer dashboards - So much data; enough information?

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: Chief Knowledge Officer

1 stethoscope

This week we launched the dedicated online dashboard of cancer-related information.  Released alongside the Cancer Strategy Implementation Plan, it was developed by PHE and NHS England to meet recommendation number 1 of the Independent Cancer Taskforce Report published last July.

It brings together a wide range of existing data sources from many different organisations to show comparative performance at CCG and provider level across the country.

It highlights metrics like 1-year survival, cancer patient experience and the number of cancers diagnosed through emergency presentation to help commissioners and providers reduce variation and improve services.

We have collected the data on many of the indicators through our National Cancer Registration and Analysis Service, provided technical support to the dashboard development and now host it on our Cancerdata/Cancerstats site so it sits alongside all our other cancer intelligence resources.

A wealth of cancer data

There is no doubt that we have a vast array of data on cancer patients treated in England. We have the largest, most comprehensive and sophisticated national cancer registration service in the world: we collect data on cancer referrals, cancer screening, diagnosis and treatment, patient experience and outcomes and prevention activities such as the stop smoking campaigns and Be Clear on Cancer.

Public Health England already has an outstanding compendium of online data and information resources available through the Public Health Profiles website which includes detailed cancer services information and the Healthier/Longer Lives programmes.

Turning data into information

Yet despite this wealth and richness of data, sometimes in cancer it feels we are short of really useful information: simple and straightforward resources where the data is presented in context in a form that tells a story, allows us to drive change or shows the impact of our interventions.

In other sectors, especially in digital and journalistic organisations like Google, BBC or The Economist, they routinely produce informative online resources from data.  They have made significant investments in teams ready to deliver information when a new story breaks.

Similarly, our partner organisations like the Office for National Statistics (ONS) are leaders in the field and Central Government has also risen to the challenge and championed by the Government Digital Service (GDS) has run five Data Science Accelerators to help train up individuals in the public sector to improve the information we can get from our data in innovative way.

PHE has also recognised that we need to adapt to meet these challenges and we now have a Head of Public Health Data Science and Digital Programme.  In the National Cancer Registration and Analysis Service we are moving beyond Excel or Stata; training our teams to use visualisation resources such as the d3 JavaScript library and analysis tools like R.  But just seizing these new technologies is not enough; we need a far more fundamental shift in our culture – changing the way we think, how we listen to our users and how we work.

We have adopted Agile Project management and have learnt from experience that cancer data is so complex and varied that for meaningful analysis we must keep the analytical interpretation very close to the data collection.

We embed our performance measures into our initial designs so that they are integral to the development work, not an add-on to be considered at the end of a project.

And finally, we recognise we are part of a global community of real experts, we are open to partnerships and collaboration, we use open source software and release our own code for others to use.

The dashboard is a great example of using the data we already have to create the information the sector needs to transform services. The power is in the presentation and the accessibility.

We will continue to develop the dashboard according to user needs and this approach to data and information will inform many of the aspects of the cancer implementation plan we will be closely included with, including: Prevention, Early Diagnosis, Cancer Experience and Data, Living With and Beyond Cancer, High Quality Services and Commissioning

More information about PHE cancer-related activities and its continuing involvement/ contribution to the Independent Cancer Taskforce recommendations will be available on the NHS England website.

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  1. Comment by Andrew Murphy posted on

    This is an incredible resource and something that only enhances the reputation of the NCRAS and the incredible work all the staff do from the Data liaison teams (helping and supporting Trusts collect data), thought to the registrars (who quality assure multiple and complex data), and finally to the analysts and developers who can create such amazing outputs like this.

    Now whe have to be smarter and ensure that everyone knows of these resources and provide targeted and personalised reporting back to the NHS (and public), to improve engagement and the quality of data.

  2. Comment by Dr Smith posted on

    Thanks for sharing this piece of information! The government should introduce new measures and approach to fighting cancer by having experienced cancer researchers and medical scientists to improve feedback and data.