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Impact award for Cardiff mathematical modelers

22 November 2021

A Cardiff University project that has helped the NHS to reduce costs, significantly lower hospital admissions and, ultimately, saves lives has been awarded the prestigious Lyn Thomas Impact Medal for 2021 by The Operational Research Society.

The Operational Research (OR) group within the University’s School of Mathematics was awarded the prize in recognition of its pioneering work with the Aneurin Bevan University Health Board, using mathematical models to streamline processes ranging from forecasting demand to scheduling operations.

The OR group, led by Professor Paul Harper, has worked closely with the Aneurin Bevan University Health Board for over seven years.

Under a ‘researchers in residence’ scheme, staff, PhD students and post-docs have been embedded within the hospital’s Continuous Improvement Department, giving them direct access to financial planners, senior managers and clinicians.

To date, the OR group has a portfolio of over 150 completed projects and their work has directly led to evidenced cost savings of at least £12.1m.

The projects include informing the design of a new hospital, leading to ongoing savings of £900,000 a year over the original design through more efficient scheduling of operating theatres, and designing the service delivery to support mental health outreach teams, leading to a reduction of 79% in avoidable hospital admissions and a 65% reduction in time taken off work by patients due to severe mental health episodes.

The group were also involved in designing and launching the NHS Wales 111 Service and the all-Wales Single Cancer Pathway (SCP) and rapid diagnostic hubs, as well as advising the Welsh Government about the response to COVID-19, in particular initial demand and capacity planning, designing the Test Trace and Protect services and in supporting the vaccination roll-out.

Operational research is used by organisations of all sizes to help inform strategic, tactical and operational decisions.

It is used to tackle problems that often messy and complex, and uses advanced analytics, modelling, problem structuring, simulation, optimisation and data science to determine the best solution to the problem and the best practical course of action.

The Lyn Thomas Impact Medal is awarded annually for academic operational research which best demonstrates both novelty and real-world impact, backed up by evidence.

Commenting on the award, Professor Paul Harper, from the School of Mathematics, said: “We are delighted and honored to receive this award, which is recognition of the hard work and commitment of colleagues at both the University and the Aneurin Bevan University Health Board.

“Over the past seven years we’ve demonstrated that operational research can make a real difference to our healthcare services and have a meaningful impact on people’s lives. Senior managers and clinicians recognise the value of the approach such that our modelling techniques have now truly become an integral part of design and delivery of their services.”

Professor Rudolf Allemann, Pro Vice-Chancellor, International and Student Recruitment and Head of the College of Physical Sciences and Engineering, said: “I extend my congratulations to the OR group on this fantastic achievement.

“The partnership they have cultivated with the Aneurin Bevan University Health Board in recent years has grown from strength to strength and is now yielding results that are having a significant and lasting impact on our healthcare systems and are saving people’s lives.”

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