The NHS COVID-19 Data Store: putting data at the centre of decision making
In a crisis, knowledge is power - and a lack of it can cost lives. Different parts of the NHS were already capturing much of the data we needed to inform our COVID-19 response. However, without a single place to gather and analyse this data, decision-makers were unable to see a complete picture of the situation or move as quickly as the response to the pandemic demanded.
That is why in March 2020 NHS England and NHS Improvement and NHSX established the NHS COVID-19 Data Store. This brings together multiple data sources from across the health and care system in England into a single, secure location.
Creating a central data store would have taken years under normal circumstances. Under the Control of Patient Information (COPI) notices the data store was established at pace, whilst protecting the privacy of our citizens.
The COVID-19 Data Store has helped us to:
- understand how the virus is spreading and identify risks to particularly vulnerable populations
- proactively increase health and care resources in emerging hot spots
- ensure critical equipment is supplied to the facilities with the greatest need
- divert patients and service users to the facilities that are best able to care for them based on demand, resources, and staffing capacity
- support clinical research to understand more about the virus and the impact it is having
Ming Tang, Chief Data Analytics Officer, NHS England and NHS Improvement
“The primary objective is to support the organisations in charge of our COVID-19 response to make effective data-led decisions. We collect information on bed occupancy levels at hospitals, capacity of A&E departments, waiting times and statistics about the lengths of stay for COVID-19 patients. By collecting this kind of crucial information and presenting it in easily digestible dashboards, we have enabled strategic decision makers to see where the healthcare system is facing strain, and where interventions can best mitigate this. We have also provided the whole system with tools that have bolstered our defences.
“Our Integrated Planning Tool helps local planners to anticipate what the knock on effect of different scenarios might be on their services (such as on hospital bed numbers, on workforce, discharges, and diagnostics) and then plan their services and workforce accordingly.
“Our early warning system gives users a three-week forecast for predicted COVID-19 hospital admissions, allowing organisations to plan and put mitigations in place at both a national and local level. For example, it has helped national supply chain leads ensure ventilators and oxygen supply is targeted where it is needed so that no hospital has run out. Locally it has supported the recovery of critical services too, giving organisations the confidence to increase non-emergency care such as outpatient appointments and planned operations.
“Our data platform also provides a route to collecting data used for the monitoring and allocation of critical equipment such as PPE. The pandemic initially caused instability in demand and supply across the NHS, putting critical services at risk. Our PPE Supply Management Tool has enabled us to allocate over 6 billion PPE items and has optimised allocation of limited resources across the country.
“Finally, our data platform has supported the roll out of the vaccination programme by providing data in near real time; highlighting inequitable access and uptake by geography, gender, ethnicity, disability and deprivation so the programme can act quickly to close the gap. It has also helped us to manage the national vaccine supply chain, assess the impact of decisions quickly and adjust our approach for continuous improvement.
“We are so proud of everything we have achieved in such a short period of time. It really shows what is possible using data and analytics expertise. Our ambition is to continue to use better data to enhance our understanding and enable informed decision making to reduce inequalities and support people to live longer, healthier and more independent lives.”