Using data to tackle health inequality

26 November 2019

Using data to tackle health inequality
The first 1,000 days of a child’s life – from conception to their second birthday – are a critical part of development. What happens to them in this period has a huge effect on their health for the rest of their lives.

For many children, where they’re born and raised can have a profound impact on the healthcare they receive. Now, with a pilot study funded by Imperial Health Charity, a team at the Trust are working closely with local communities in North West London to tackle the ‘postcode lottery’ and reduce health inequality.

By bringing together data from social care services, hospitals, and other providers, they hope to identify areas where care could be improved and take steps to ensure a child’s first years are healthy ones.

Charles Coughlan, a doctor at the Trust, said: “You might point to a particular GP surgery and see that their rates of getting the MMR vaccine are really low. And then we as a group of paediatricians at St Mary's Hospital can work directly with them and do something about it.”

“A GP might also be able to pick out the one child who isn’t breastfeeding, who hasn’t been vaccinated, and might have other social care problems that they might not have been aware of and intervene to improve their care.”

The project is led by the team at Connecting Care for Children, an award-winning integrated care model, developed by paediatricians at St Mary’s Hospital. They’ll be working with medical staff and analysts to present the data in an easy to use ‘dashboard’ that can be accessed by public health researchers, healthcare commissioners and doctors.

Charles believes that by identifying those most at risk, the project could have huge knock-on effects:

“What we'd want to use the dashboard to do is identify the mothers and children most in need so we can better target support.

“There’s evidence that if you can really maximise the child's health chances in their first 1,000 days, they'll do great at school, they'll get the best jobs, and they'll be richer and happier in their later life.”

The dashboard is being designed with local communities in mind – not only will they be able to access anonymised data for their area; the team want them to have play a big part.

“We’re hoping for this to be a springboard for mums and dads to get involved with community designed projects,” said Charles.

“Rather than us health professionals doing everything in a very reactive way, we can actually use the data to engage the community so that they can work out what is important to them, what they want to do, and they’ll be able to see the results and how their own health changes over time”.

To find out more about the charity's grants programme, click here.