NHS Industrial Placement – Waleed Backler

Introduction

My name is Waleed Backler, and I am a MSc Medical Statistics student at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, as well as an analyst in NHS England Analytical Services. I studied BSc Mathematics at the University of Greenwich, and, as part of my ‘sandwich degree’, I undertook a one-year industrial placement with the Department of Health (DH) and NHS England in Leeds, United Kingdom.

The main aim of NHS England is to improve the health outcomes for people in England by delivering high quality care for all, now and for future generations. I worked in the Patients and Information Directorate in the Analytical Services Team which primarily dealt with data generated by patient opinion, capturing “what patients think and feel” about the care they receive.

My work

My role was to analyse survey and other data-sets in order to gain information and insight on patient experience and outcomes across a variety of clinical services. I used statistical packages such as SPSS to undertake complex multivariate analysis to investigate relationships between variables within and between our core data-sets. I frequently wrote statistical bulletins to report my findings to ministers who used it to help determine policy decisions.

I specified and created tools based on user requirements which allow our customers to understand trends in the data more easily, and to identify outlying results (both positive and negative). Some of these tools were published on the NHS England website as public-facing free to use resources for anyone interested in the data. The tools that I have developed have also been distributed to co-workers from within and outside the organisation, and have become a valuable resource for colleagues working in the area of patient experience and outcomes.

I also witnessed with fascination the use of Operational Research in several other Analytical teams. This included the creation of models to reduce inpatient waiting times whilst the Finance team created a Monte Carlo simulation wrapper for models which predicted expenditure.

Skills Development

The placement gave me strong skills in problem-solving, managing my time effectively and writing succinctly, in addition to advancing my knowledge of statistical analysis.

I was given the opportunity to develop my presentation skills. At the end of the placement, I presented some of the work I did to more than a hundred analysts. I learnt to prioritise between multiple tasks because unlike university where you have a set timetable, unexpected work of high priority can emerge at any time when working in NHS England. I also developed my understanding of how to communicate complex information to non-technical audiences. I am delighted to have developed this skill because many of our customers and very senior managers do not fully understand mathematical and statistical terms. As a result of my usefulness to the team I have been asked to stay on part-time during my final year of university.

There were numerous development opportunities in NHS England. I attended a funded Visual Basic for Applications course with other colleagues which was really helpful as we used our newly found programming knowledge to speed up work processes. I also had the opportunity to take an active part in the latest Patient-Led Assessments of the Care Environment (PLACE) at Leeds General Infirmary. This allowed me to interact with patients and front-line staff to see the bigger picture and understand the significance behind all the work that analysts do. I now recognize that one small piece of analytical work can affect policy decisions, which in turn can affect the level of care that patients receive.

Career Path

Choosing to do a ‘sandwich placement’ has been one of the best decision that I have taken in my life. Everything I am currently doing, and will be doing over the next 4 to 5 years has been shaped by my placement with DH and NHS England. My industrial placement had an immediate effect on my career as I was offered a part-time role with NHS England during the final year of my BSc, which I delightfully accepted. Furthermore, my final year mathematics BSc project was titled “Is there a relationship between the patient experience of care and the experience of staff working in the NHS?”, and this is fully down to the placement I undertook. My project was awarded The Ede & Ravenscroft 325th Anniversary Prize for Best Overall Project.

During the final year of my BSc, I was applying for Masters courses to start right after I finished my BSc. Due to my industrial placement I knew that my passion lied around mathematics in the healthcare industry, and therefore I applied for the MSc Medical Statistics course at a few institutions. Luckily, I was offered an interview with the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. The interview panel were particularly impressed by my placement experience, and it was mainly because of this that I was offered the National Institute for Health Research Award for the MSc in Medical Statistics in 2015. Currently, as I am working on my MSc dissertation, I have rejoined NHS England to work part-time over the summer.

Finally, my industrial placement has also shaped the career path that I will be taking after I finish my Masters. In September 2015 I started my application for the Civil Service Statistics Fast Stream Programme, which I came to know about during my placement. I was given a lot of advice with regards to the application by my colleagues in DH and NHS England, as the application consists of multiple steps including assessment centres and online psychometric tests. I was delighted to find out in December 2015 that my application was successful. The programme consists of several rotations between Civil Service departments, and I have recently been informed that I will be joining the Ministry of Justice in October as a Fast Stream Statistician for my first placement.

Conclusion

I enjoyed my industrial placement for many reasons including the fact that I have been able to work in many different areas of patient experience. For example, one day I was working on the Inpatient survey while the next, I was working on patient’s personal health budgets. I think this has improved my skills even more as I have become more flexible when taking on tasks which are not similar in any way.

The experience has and will continue to benefit me for the rest of my career. I would wholly recommend all students to take up the opportunity to do a placement as the benefits of doing so are boundless.