The National Competency Framework for Data Professionals in Health and Care (NCF) was launched in early October at the annual conference for the Association of Professional Healthcare Analysts (AphA) in Stoke-on-Trent.

The NCF has been created to standardise the working practices of data professionals with a view to raise their professional status away from the current generally accepted “admin” job group, to a sector recognised in its own right as a profession.

The NCF had been created with funding from NHS England from which AphA conducted a landscape review, which recommended the creation of a single framework for the whole community to standardise.

This then led to a small consultancy, Davies Furlong Consulting (DFC), in conjunction with AphA and NHSE, developing the framework through a national DFC engagement strategy which saw 100 organisations participate and over 400 data professionals.

The resulting testing of the framework showed that all these parties felt that the final output was as good or better than any other framework they had ever used. This sentiment was continued throughout the conference with all delegates being overwhelmingly engaged and even excited by the prospect of rolling out the framework.

The annual AphA conference brought together speakers including Ming Tang, head of profession at NHS England, Andi Orlowski, director at Health Economics Unit and AphA president, and Professor Marc Farr, CDO at Kent and Medway ICB and East Kent Hospitals NHS FT.

As pointed out by Andi Orlowski, and by others throughout the day, a data professional can save more lives through insightful analysis than any anaesthetist. The NHS has developed a lack of understanding around data where operational leaders do not understand how vital the accuracy of data is, he said.

The NCF, and the whole professionalisation agenda, is crucial, according to Farr, in order to create a “wall of 13,500 people [data professionals in health and care] standing behind you when you push back and say ‘no, this is what the figures say’” thus preventing a situation as described by Orlowski whereby, “rather than making data led decisions, we are being asked to produce decision led data”. 

Of the conference Rachel McIlroy, senior programme lead at NHS England, said: “If you can be photographed grinning at a conference then you know you’re having a great time. It was so fantastic to see the launch of the NCF – incredible work and can’t wait to see it used to help shape the workforce needs.”

In September, the AphA CEO Rony Arafin and chair Orlowski wrote to NHS England CEO Amanada Pritchard to raise their concern about the omission of any mention of data and analytics in the latest Workforce Strategy.