How we’re helping the NHS use data and research to deliver effective alcohol-related care. 

According to NHS data, over 1.1 million hospital admissions each year are alcohol-related. Of these, around 100,000 admissions are for conditions that directly indicate alcohol dependence. 

As part of a long-term plan to deliver a nationwide alcohol treatment system, NHS England & NHS Improvement and Public Health England set up Alcohol Care Teams (ACTs) to provide specialist expertise and interventions. 

To meet national requirements and offer the best possible service locally, the Healthier Pennine Lancashire Integrated Care Partnership needed data and research to understand the impact of their new Alcohol Care Team (ACT). They came to us for help. 

Our role

  • Strategic consultancy
  • Quantitative research and analysis
  • Qualitative research and analysis

Why PS Research?

The Healthier Pennine Lancashire Integrated Care Partnership approached us for this project on the back of our previous work evaluating the NHS Volunteer Responders scheme across Lancashire and South Cumbria. 

This meant they weren’t taking a punt. We have public sector experience. We’re familiar with how public services differ from the private sector. We understand the lingo, agendas and different approaches. We’re also local. We get the local context, what the population health is like and the challenges people face in the area. 

Because of this, we were able to get up to speed quickly, working as part of their team to develop their thinking and help set up systems for gathering and using data effectively long after we’ve gone.    

The ACT is an essential service helping local people. We’re happy to be playing a part in it making a difference. 

Working with, not for

The Pennine Lancashire ACT is a part of the NHS Long Term Plan for treating intoxication or alcohol-related complications in hospital settings. It's an ongoing service with ever-changing needs based on research and data. 

In other words, it’s not a one and done here’s-the-brief-do-the-work kind of project. 

For the NHS to get the most from our skills, it was important to work with them as an extension of the team, not for them as a third party. 

We sometimes call this strategic consultancy. In real-world terms, it means the ACT always has someone at the end of the phone, present at meetings and Teams calls, and working hands-on with a group. 

Being embedded in the project means we’re able to gain a deeper knowledge of the project to shape ideas and deliver the right approach.  

It’s one of the advantages of being a small company: you only ever deal with the people doing the work.

Who needs help? 

For the ACT to communicate its service internally, it needs to show the problem it was set up to help with. 

To set a baseline to inform early discussions between partners and the team, we conducted some population health analysis to answer key questions: 

  • What is the demographic make-up of local residents? 
  • What are their lives like? 
  • What is their health like? 
  • What specifically do we know about alcohol use in Pennine Lancashire?

Building a picture of the local community highlighted the importance of the service, making it easier for the team to get stakeholder support.

Image of some charts on alcohol-related mortality

The what, why and how of data collection  

For the ACT to keep providing the best possible care, it needs to continually collect the right data on their patients, the service they deliver and the impact they have.

We helped the team work out what data should be collected and why.

We put this into a framework, then acted as translator with an in-house developer tasked with building an app to hold the data. The team knew what they wanted, but needed some help explaining how the data should be collected and how it should be structured. 

With the app now up and running, each member of staff has somewhere to easily record, find and pull a variety of data on the patients they work with.

Understanding the people behind the numbers

For the ACT, data is important for meeting national returns and building an evidence base to inform future funding discussions. But it's much more than numbers on a page. 

It’s about understanding why a person is dealing with an alcohol-related problem in the first place. Through exploratory data analysis, we’re helping the team understand the lives of the people they’re seeing—their circumstances, living situations, other health issues, etc. 

This approach was expanded with the introduction of Emma. Up until this point, Adam had been leading the project with his data skills and strategic thinking. Adding Emma’s skills helped introduce qualitative research to complement the quantitative data.

We’re interviewing patients discharged from the service over the phone so we can learn about their experience—how it made them feel, what worked and what didn’t work, and what they’d change. 

This feedback will give the team insights to tailor its care to better suit patients. 

Keeping things moving

Having worked with the Alcohol Care Team for around 18 months, we are very much part of the team. To disappear one day without a word would leave the team without specialist research they’ve come to rely on. 

Ahead of handing over later in the year, we’re putting our skills to good use, delivering in-depth analysis and presenting findings to help key stakeholders understand what it means for the service and how to use data going forward.  

We’re also working with the team on how to use tools and replicate key reports, so that they can continue to use data and research effectively without us.

By leaving them in a good place to drive the service, we can hand over happily knowing we’re no longer needed.  

Adam and Emma have been such a find. We really value the expertise they bring and the way they work with us. Nothing is too much trouble and we feel more confident in our data and research with them around.

Laura Walker

Lead Nurse, Pennine Lancashire Alcohol Care Team

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