NHSE shares guidance and toolkit on building ICS intelligence functions

NHS England has published guidance on building an integrated care system intelligence function, highlighting the opportunity for ICSs to “unlock the potential of integrated data and population health analytics to develop a deeper understanding into the extend and nature of the health inequalities within their populations.”

NHSE describes an intelligence function as a “system-wide, multi-disciplinary collaboration of intelligence professionals, with representation from analytical leaders and key teams across the whole ICS”, which aims to coordinate a “diverse range of analytical skills to support the needs of the system.”

The guidance and toolkit are intended to provide systems with a framework for developing their use of data, analytics and insights by building intelligence functions that sit at the centre of the systems’ approaches to care design and delivery. The resources have been developed in partnership with ICSs around the country, building from local good practice examples.

What does an intelligence function need?

The document emphasises the importance of strong local foundations to help build the intelligence functions, suggesting that “systems may wish to consider the role of their intelligence function when developing their approach to people and community engagement, to ensure that the insight generated – both qualitative and quantitative – is incorporated into their wider intelligence about the population. This approach will support the system to hone its allocation of resources, including through an emphasis on preventative care for groups who are most at risk of ill health.”

In addition, it highlights the need for collaboration with other ICSs teams including digital, information governance, transformation, operational, care quality and finance, so that the function is “not treated as a support service but rather would work with ICS teams as an active partner, providing systematic input into decision-making and service design through the production of timely and robust evidence, and routinely equipping teams with intelligence that drives improvements in performance.”

The guidance notes that intelligence functions benefit from clear governance structure, with links to the ICB and integrated care partnerships “to ensure that its outputs are informing key decisions while receiving appropriate steer and oversight.”

Finally, it encourages intelligence functions to operate within a national and regional learning network, “using best-practice tools, resources and wider datasets provided by national teams and local knowledge and intelligence services, and sharing and collaborating on analyses and approaches with teams from other ICSs, tailoring these where necessary to the local context.”

How does it help with decision-making?

“The intelligence function will support teams across the ICS to make better decisions through the systematic use of timely and relevant evidence,” the guidance states. “By grounding decisions in robust intelligence and data analytics that draw on wide multidisciplinary knowledge and expertise, systems can respond to a more comprehensive and detailed understanding of their populations, supporting a targeted, more effective use of resources.”

It notes that the “strongest intelligence functions will power innovation and decision-making at all levels of their ICS, from strategic decision-making about cross-system transformation and budget delegation, to planning care and managing operations at place level, to applying near-real time population-based insights across integrated neighbourhood teams.”

In addition, the intelligence function could also “drive cross-system priorities, producing analyses and evidence that identify areas of opportunity for senior leaders and professional staff to consider.”

What does a good intelligence function look like?

The document describes the key components of an intelligence function, including purpose; scope; governance; data and analysis; scale; multi-disciplinary teams; and resourcing and development.

It specifies how these components could mature over time; for example, an emerging purpose could be to respond to immediate cross-system needs and provide intelligence on pressures within the system and forecast of population need, whilst the mature purpose could see the intelligence function develop a strategy for how population health will underpin relationships between the ICB and its partners.

Similarly, emerging governance could mean representation from analytical leaders from across the ICS, whilst maturing governance could see active sponsorship from a board-level representative to ensure the intelligence function has input into executive discussions.

Enablers and resources

The guidance shares information on a number of programmes in development or underway that will support and enable the development of local intelligence functions, including NHSE’s federated data architecture and a common data platform; secure data environments; and the Who Does What programme.

Finally, it shares resources including the intelligence function toolkit.

To read the document in full, please click here.