The COVID-19 emergency has been unprecedented in its scale and speed and the NHS has had to adapt in ways few would have thought possible. Part of that effort has been ensuring that those planning the response have the information they need to understand the rapidly evolving situation and can anticipate demand on health and care services so supplies of vital equipment such as ventilators get to where they are needed in time.
In order to do this, NHSX has been working with partners from the private sector, including Faculty, to create a data platform that provides decision-makers with a single source of accurate, up-to-date and reliable data. This work is saving lives.
We are enormously proud of our work to help the NHS harness the power of data at this time of national crisis. We also appreciate that there is considerable public interest in the project so we wanted to take the opportunity to set out some of the facts about our work. The NHS has also written about the project and provides more details in a blog on 28 March, which you can read here.
Our role in the COVID-19 data response
Our role has focused on helping the NHS understand the epidemic, be able to model the demand and use its resources as effectively as possible. Specifically we have been working with NHSX to develop dashboards, models and simulations in order to provide key decision-makers in the NHS and government with a deeper level of information about the current and future coronavirus situation from national level down to individual NHS Trusts and hospitals. This means they can make faster and more informed decisions.
Gathering the data
The NHS needs to allocate vital resources to patients that need them in order to save lives. The data required to do this is being gathered by the NHS itself from across the NHS, social care and partner organisations and placed into a datastore held by NHS England and NHS Improvement. All the data in the data store, including 111 online/call centre data from NHS Digital and Covid-19 test result data from Public Health England, is anonymous. It is then integrated, cleaned, and harmonised by the NHS, and their tech partners.
Faculty’s work, in collaboration with NHSX and NHSE/I, is to visualise the data in the form of dashboards, and forecast trends.
The work is part of an integrated effort by the NHS and the government’s scientific advisors on the SPI-M and SAGE committees. As part of this Faculty has been working with NHS teams to ensure that all parties are working from the same modelling assumptions and the most accurate and up-to-date data both on a national and local level. Early on in the crisis Faculty’s CEO Marc Warner was asked to attend one meeting of SAGE as an observer for NHSX in order to understand what data was required.
As a contractor, Faculty is subject to the same strict rules for data protection as the NHS. All of the data we are using in the project is gathered and pseudonymised, aggregated or anonymised by the NHS before it is shared with Faculty. None of the data Faculty is drawing on includes “personal” (meaning “identifiable”) patient information and all the data remains under NHS control. Once the public health emergency situation has ended data will either be destroyed or returned in line with the law and the strict contractual agreements that are in place between the NHS and its partners.
Due to the extreme urgency of the COVID-19 response, Faculty’s work is being conducted under the terms of its existing contract with NHSX to support the building of an NHS AI Lab.
This work is a small part of an overall £250m government investment in artificial intelligence to help solve some of healthcare’s toughest challenges (more details of which can be found here).
This contract was awarded to Faculty by NHSX following an open competitive tender process conducted in late 2019. The contract will be made public in due course.
Faculty is a leading AI technology specialist helping companies and public sector organisations with strategy, software and skills. Faculty is not a data aggregator and it is not in the business of collecting or monetising data sets. To date, we have completed over 350+ projects spanning both private and public sectors including healthcare.
Faculty is not involved in the design or development of the mobile contact tracing app led by NHSX.
Epidemiological model for coronavirus
In addition to its work for NHSX on current demand and short-term projections, Faculty has contributed to the development of an agent-based epidemiological model for coronavirus led by Oxford University’s Big Data Institute. This will help understanding of the virus and eventually allow for long term forecasting of future demand on NHS resources at local level.
The code for the model has been made open-source in order that modellers, scientists and policy makers anywhere in the world can download it, calibrate to their own situation and run their own simulations.
Faculty’s contribution, alongside IBM UK, was the development of the Python interface so that the model can easily be calibrated for different outbreaks. The Faculty team also prepared the repository for open sourcing.
One early application of the simulator by the team at Oxford University was an analysis of the impact of different configurations of a contact tracing app. The resulting academic paper published by Oxford University credited three members of Faculty staff for their contribution to the model. The research on the impact of a contact tracing app was carried out by the team at Oxford University.