NHS commissions ‘big data’ platform to tackle corona

By on 02/04/2020
The platform will assess demand, resources, and staffing capacity to divert patients to the facilities that are best able to care for them. (Photo by Simon Davis/DFID).

The UK’s National Health Service (NHS) is to launch a digital platform using big data, artificial intelligence (AI) and cloud computing to help in the fight against coronavirus, enlisting tech giants including Microsoft and Amazon Web Services.

The project aims to gather, process and analyse data from a range of sources, providing government and health decision-makers with real-time information and advice. Inputs will cover topics such as the spread of the virus, hospital occupancy levels, A&E department capacity and waiting times, ventilator usage, the length of COVID-19 patient stays, and staff sickness.  

As well as merging existing NHS data sources, the platform will also make use of COVID-19 test result data from Public Health England and information from calls to 111, a healthcare information service.

“The results will be presented as dashboards that give a live view of the metrics needed to track and understand the current spread of the crisis, and the capacity in the healthcare system to deal with it,” a blog post on the government website says.

It is hoped the dashboards – a beta version of the first is expected to be ready this week – will help track the virus’s spread; identify particular risks to vulnerable populations; target resources; and divert patients to the facilities with the greatest capacity.

“With an accurate view of these metrics in place, the data allows decision-makers to answer questions about the response and explore the impact of different decisions,” the blog post says. “This will lead to a better understanding of how the virus is spreading, when and where the healthcare system will face strain, and which interventions can best mitigate the crisis.”

The government-initiated public-private partnership will be coordinated by NHS England, NHS Improvement – which oversees local NHS trusts – and digital unit NHSX. It will be led by Dr Indra Joshi, director of AI at NHSX and Ming Tang, national director, data and analytics at NHS England and NHS Improvement.

The NHS says it aims to publish as much of the data as possible – producing a public-facing dashboard – and will make the code and data open source wherever possible “while ensuring the highest standards of confidentiality”.

All NHS data will remain under NHS England and NHS Improvement’s control, and once the pandemic has ended it will either be destroyed “or returned in line with the law and the strict contractual agreements that are in place between the NHS and partners”.

About Mia Hunt

Mia is a journalist and editor with a background in covering commercial property, having been market reports and supplements editor at trade title Property Week and deputy editor of Shopping Centre magazine, now known as Retail Destination. She has also undertaken freelance work for several publications including the preview magazine of international trade show, MAPIC, and TES Global (formerly the Times Educational Supplement) and has produced a white paper on energy efficiency in business for E.ON. Between 2014 and 2016, she was a member of the Revo Customer Experience Committee and an ACE Awards judge. Mia graduated from Kingston University with a first-class degree in journalism and was part of the team that produced The River newspaper, which won Publication of the Year at the Guardian Student Media Awards in 2010.

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