A London professor is working with two NHS trusts in the Midlands and computational knowledge firm Wolfram Research on a model for safer nurse staffing.

Alison Leary, chair of healthcare and workforce modelling at London South Bank, told EHI News she was anxious to see improvements in safe staffing.

She is now working with University Hospitals Coventry and Warwickshire NHS Trust and Sandwell and West Birmingham Hospitals NHS Trust, both of which will pass on the large amount of data they routinely collect to Wolfram to interpret.

The aim will be to “predict when, where and how to deploy staff in any given situation.”

Oxfordshire-based Wolfram is most famous for developing the advanced search engine Wolfram|Alpha.

Rather than providing a list of relevant websites or documents when asked a query, it calculates the answer based on a collection of built-in data, algorithms, and methods.

The company is looking to use a similar computational system as part of its collaboration with the trusts in order to make sense of complex aggregated clinical data and work out “actionable answers”.

Leary said that nurses collect a lot of routine data, but much of it is rarely used. She applied for funding from NHS England under the Compassion in Practice programme in order to interpret this data.

She told EHI News she wanted to work with the trusts because she had worked with them previously, and knew they had “fantastic datasets”. She said she wanted to partner with Wolfram as she need “good mathematicians.”

“Applying advanced mathematical models can dramatically improve results, but health is a very complex area to model. Data is typically fuzzy, so it needs a careful, sophisticated approach to garner optimised results,” she said.

Leary explained that this was currently a short project, but the aim was to help build a methodology towards developed a predictive model for safe staffing and to find out where there are gaps in data. “What we learn can be applicable across England,” she said.

Trusts in England have been told to improve their staffing levels in resoponse to the Francis Report into the scandal at Mid Staffordshire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, which had high death rates and very poor care on some wards.

However, many have turned to oversees and agency staff to meet new minimum requirements. The King's Fund and other think-tanks have said that this has contributed to the rising deficit now being reported by acute trusts, which NHS Providers has predicted could reach £2.5 billion next year.

In addition, there is considerable interest in modelling and more sophisticated staff rostering to help trusts make more informed decisions about the skill mix they need at different times of the week and different times of the day to meet the acuity of their patients.

Jon McLoone, director of technical services, Wolfram Research Europe Limited, said the NHS is sitting on a “goldmine of collected data”.

“Now it's up to us at Wolfram to turn that information into knowledge that will improve healthcare in this country."