It's all about the numbers...

Out Of The Ordinary

Jon Hannah, Head of Capability, Improvement Capability Directorate, NHS Improving Quality


I am a great believer that everyone is a geek for something. That little part of your life where you speak effortlessly from a point of expertise and often deep, passionate love. For some this will be art history, others will have a shed full of parts for old motor cycles, if you are really lucky you will find that your geekdom can be applied effectively within your job.

I currently lead a team of people who are geeky about analytic topics, research, evaluation, measurement…. The thing that ties us together is a love of numbers and a curiosity for why things do what they do.

We are never happier than when presented with data and information that allows us to sate the desire to know why and if things are working and why and if they are not. This is a pretty useful calling when it comes to improving quality in healthcare. To use medical parlance we use numbers, logic, patterns and critical thinking allow us to identify issues, diagnose causes, treat problems and assess ongoing outcomes.

The thing is, the vast majority of what we do is… whisper it… not that difficult. It is something that anyone with a passion for making things better, or curious about whether they are getting better can pick up and learn. The great thing about being a geek is you kinda want to share what you do with the world, help everyone to understand what you get out of it and hopefully convert a good few as well.

To this end we have created a platform where we and the wider community of people a bit like us are free to learn new skills, share our thinking, discuss ideas and practice, discover new innovations and inspiration. We already have 50 articles and a growing number of ‘How to…’ guides which provide bitesize learning you can fit into your commute or lunch hour.

Relevance to Primary Care

So why do I think it would be useful to Primary Care Nurses? Well I look back to a time 12 odd years ago when the world was all about delivery targets and I was working hard within the Department of Health to understand what was happening with the 24/48 hour access target for GPs and Primary Care Professionals.

I suspect a fair few people repressed a shudder as I mentioned that, it wasn’t a pretty time and highlighted a lot of issues we know about why targets are a very blunt instrument to use to improve. But from a geek point of view it offered a valuable illustration of what happens when you get your measurement focus wrong and how proper analytic techniques can help make positive change easier.

This is something I will talk on more at a later date, but if you ever wondered why that infamous clip of Tony Blair being challenged on Newsnight about why people couldn’t book appointments happened you have to look closely at how the measure was set and the unintended consequences that occurred. Our intent is to explain why and support others to gain the skills to spot similar things in the future.

The vast majority of it is not rocket science, or kinematics to give it its technical term, it is stuff that can be learnt and applied within your day to day work to help make a difference in your immediate surroundings.


So why are we doing this? Well I had always wanted to work in healthcare, sadly my talents never allowed me to do so first hand, I am the last person you would want to see hovering above you with a scalpel, this was my calling and this is how I can make a difference. But there is very little in life that is entirely philanthropic, we are looking for things from you as well, principly your ideas and enthusiasm, that will help us shape what we do next and how we might best target our work towards having maximum impact on patient care.

Because that at the end of the day is what we are all trying to do, improve care for patients.

I am a great believer that everyone is a geek for something. That little part of your life where you speak effortlessly from a point of expertise and often deep, passionate love.