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Maths in medicine project up for prestigious award

3 September 2015

Maths figures and sums

Innovative research placing maths at the heart of medicine shortlisted for Times Higher Education innovation award

A Cardiff University-led project which uses mathematical modelling to unravel the complex reasons behind delays on hospital wards, to cut waiting times and save lives has been shortlisted for a prestigious higher education award.

The ‘Maths Saves Lives’ project has been shortlisted in the Times Higher Education awards’  Outstanding Contribution to Innovation and Technology category, which acknowledges and promotes breakthroughs that could significantly enhance commercial or public sector operations.

Led by Professors Jeff Griffiths and Paul Harper from the University’s School of Mathematics, the team closely studied queues and patient flows to unravel the complex reasons behind delays on hospital wards and in A&E units.

Hospitals have traditionally measured demand by the length of waiting lists or numbers of referrals. But this information only provides a number and does not provide health professionals with specific information about patients’ treatment needs.

The mathematical models developed by the team help to determine the needs and urgency of each patient. By capturing this complexity and variability, the mathematical models guide the patients towards the most effective healthcare provision.

By modelling simulations of real life scenarios, such as complex and unpredictable patient flows, managers can change their processes on screen before they do it, allowing them to look at different performance measures and predict what could happen if things were changed.

The embedding of mathematical modelling into healthcare has never been done before in the UK,
and the data generated from these models has been used by health systems in England and Wales to cut waiting times, inform policy-making, enhance a wide range of services and ultimately save lives.

As a result of the modelling, the University Hospital of Wales, Cardiff has delivered £1.6M net efficiency gains per year in the emergency department. Patient care and hospital resources have also been significantly improved at Rookwood Hospital - a major neurological rehabilitation centre in South Wales. Modelling at the Hyper Acute Stroke Unit at St George’s Hospital in South London helped reduce the mortality of stroke patients by 60 per cent.

In addition, as a direct result of the collaboration, more than 200 NHS Wales staff have attended training in statistical and modelling techniques, and a national training course is being developed with Exeter University.

If rolled out on a wider scale, it is expected that the successes from the existing projects can be replicated, with experts estimating that modelling could cut NHS costs by as much as 20 per cent.

Winners will be announced on 26 November at a ceremony at the Grosvenor House Hotel in London.