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Health Service Modelling Associates Programme

"We have developed the Health Service Modelling Associates programme in order to improve the integration and awareness of the potential of simulation and modelling techniques within the health service. We're very excited by this initiative and believe it will lead to significant improvements in the delivery of health services in the South West. We are also grateful to Simul8 Corporation for providing our HSMAs with the tools to develop exciting simulation models for their organisations."

Dr Dan Chalk, PenCHORD, Senior Research Fellow


What is it?

The Health Service Modelling Associates (HSMA) Programme is a scheme run by PenARC's operational research team, PenCHORD. Working directly with staff from NHS organisations in Devon, Cornwall and Somerset, the programme aims to support the increased use of Operational Research (OR) within health service development and decision making.

The Associates, who are released for one day a week from their substantive roles, undertake advanced modelling, simulation and analysis work on specific projects within their own organisations. They receive mentoring, support and training from PenCHORD, whilst being supported in their own organisation by an HSMA Workplace Supervisor. This supervisor facilitates the implementation of the HSMA's project and helps to champion the work within their wider organisation.

Why are we doing this?

We want to:

  • Work towards a culture in which OR methods are routinely used to support decisions within the NHS;

  • Build capacity within the NHS to generate and use evidence from models;

  • Increase the potential impact of modelling and simulation projects within the NHS;

  • Build towards a collaborative culture within and between NHS organisations, and between the NHS and research organisations;

  • Evaluate how best to integrate OR methods within the NHS.

How does it work?

Associates are selected on the basis of their current role, their skills and experience with basic modelling, and the completion of PenCHORD's suite of training modules, as well as an evaluation of their proposed project.

The pilot Programme in 2016 focused on pathway modelling and training in the use of Simul8 software. From 2018 the Programme was expanded and divided into two distinct phases:

Phase 1: Foundations of Health Service Modelling which took the full cohort through three months of training. Participants received training in Operational Research concepts, pathway modelling, geographic modelling and visualisation, 'soft' skills (such as meeting facilitation and engaging with stakeholders), problem structuring and implementation planning. Training was spread across six days in a three month period. During Phase 1 participants were supported to develop a project proposal to pursue in Phase 2.

At the end of Phase 1, five to seven participants were selected to progress to Phase 2 of the Programme, during which they receive advanced simulation development training to support them with their projects. The participants were released by their employers for one day a week for nine months to work on their projects with the support of the PenCHORD team. Phase 1 participants who were not selected to proceed to Phase 2 were able to proceed with other collaborative opportunities with PenARC and/or the AHSN.

HSMA 3 Programme

Following on from two hugely successful rounds of the Health Service Modelling Associate Programme, HSMA 3 launched in October 2020, this time with an extended level of one-to-one support as the programme moves online.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the implications for those working in the health and social care sectors, HSMA 3 will be run as an entirely online course with a combination of live lectures, pre-recorded lectures on YouTube, online resources and Zoom-based group discussions. 

Moving the programme online will make it easier for associates to communicate with peers and the PenCHORD team, receive mentoring support and work collaboratively. Dr Daniel Chalk, programme lead said: “Moving the programme online means that our training provision is much more extensive. We can be more focussed and flexible by facilitating option sessions depending on associates’ areas of interest; we’re keen to ask associates, ‘what’s of interest to you?’”

Find out more about HSMA3

HSMA 2 Programme

The HSMA 2 cohort. 

Following the success of the HSMA 1 Programme, HSMA 2 was launched for 2018 as a joint initiative between PenARC and the South West Academic Health Science Network (SW AHSN). The Programme’s reach was expanded and split into two distinct phases, and the number of Associates was increased to 26.

Find out more about the Programme on the HSMA 2 page.

"It's been a fantastic development journey for me personally - we don't often get out from behind our desks as analysts, so being part of this programme has been an invaluable opportunity, not only to develop modelling skills, but to build on our soft skills and develop this wonderful network of like-minded supportive HSMA's we now have! 12 months ago I wouldn't have dreamt of standing up in front of an audience that large and talking about my work but my experience as a HSMA has made it possible.”

Hayley Lewis, Senior Information Analyst, NHS


A showcase event, the HSMA programme Final Seminar was held in December 2018 to celebrate the second year of the programme and to hear about the second round of completed HSMA projects. You can read more about the event here.


HSMA 1 Programme

2016 HSMA cohort with PenCHORD mentors

The HSMA 1 cohort, with the PenCHORD mentors.

The first HSMA Programme was run as a pilot in 2016 for twelve months from 1 April, and included six Associates. The Programme focused on pathway modelling, and included training in developing projects and questions and in the use of Simul8 software.

The HSMA 1 projects led to multi-million pound business cases, significant improvements to A&E, mental health and discharge pathways, and a number of the Associates were promoted within their organisations. 

Find out more about the Programme on the HSMA 1 page

To mark the end of the first year of the HSMA Programme a new website was launched to showcase the impacts the programme has had on NHS Trusts across the South West. 

A showcase was held in March 2017 to celebrate the first year of the programme and to hear about the projects that the HSMAs had completed. You can read more about the event here.


HSMA in the news

HSMA 2 Programme Update

Launch of new website to mark one year of Health Service Modelling Associates Programme

Launch of HSMA 2 Programme

Research instrumental in securing £8 million funding for new hospital mental health ward

HSMA Project Focus - The South West Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust

HSMA Project Focus - Northern Devon Healthcare NHS Trust

Researchers and NHS staff celebrate working together to tackle pressing health service issues

PenCHORD launch new Health Service Modelling Associates Programme

PenCHORD: Helping the NHS make informed decisions using operational research


HSMA Related Projects

Police Service Modelling Associates (PSMA) Programme

PenCHORD- Evaluation of the PenCHORD Health Service Modelling Associates programme (EmMA)

PenCHORD - Review of Operational Research in scheduled and unscheduled care

PenCHORD - Determining the required size of a Clinical Decision Unit at Royal Devon & Exeter Hospital


Further Information

Interested in joining the programme?

We plan to run this programme annually. More information and details on how to apply will be available in due course.

To find out more about the organisational requirements, project development guidance for the programme, and person specification you can download our HSMA 2018 FAQ Document.

If you have any queries about the programme, please do not hesitate to  email us

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