UK’s big data plan

2020-04-06 17:37:33
UK’s big data plan
The NHS is facing an unprecedented challenge. The pandemic has caused many lives to be lost and has left many hospitals overwhelmed and undersupplied. To understand and anticipate demand on healthcare services, how the virus is spreading and where it might happen next, the NHS needs access to accurate real-time information. Here is how they plan to get ahead of the virus

In the fight against this pandemic, decision-makers, as well as hospitals, will need accurate real-time information to get ahead of the massively overwhelmed medical sector.

To stay a step ahead, medical caregivers will need to know the extent of the spread and where it might spread next in order to plan to formulate strategies to ration out medical resources as best as they can. The NHS needs to know which of its system is likely to face strain first whether its ventilators, beds or staff sickness and will have to make the arranges accordingly

While different parts of the NHS already capture much of this information, staying ahead of this crisis and flattening the curve will require the NHS to streamline that information. 

By consolidating information from across the NHS and partner organisations, decision-makers will get more accurate real-time information as well as visibility into the status of the response

How it works

As part of a coordinated national effort, the Government has commissioned NHS England and Improvement and NHSX to develop a data platform that will provide those national organisations responsible for coordinating the response with secure, reliable and timely data - in a way that protects the privacy of our citizens - in order to make informed, effective decisions. 

NHS England and Improvement will create a data store to bring multiple data sources into a single, secure location.

Data needed to inform the Covid-19 response will come from across the NHS and social care and from partner organisations, including data such as 111 online/call centre data from NHS Digital and Covid-19 test result data from Public Health England. 

To provide a single source of truth about the rapidly evolving situation, data will then be integrated, cleaned, and harmonised in order to develop a single and reliable source of information to support decision-making. 

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. 

Using the dashboards, decision-makers will be able to:

  • - Understand how the virus is spreading at a local level 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; and-
  • - Divert patients/service users to the facilities that are best able to care for them based on demand, resources, and staffing capacity.

A beta form of the dashboard will be ready to share with key government decision-makers this week, with the intention to make as much data openly available as possible over time, including a separate dashboard to support public understanding. 

The beta form will include metrics such as:

  • - Current occupancy levels at hospitals, broken down by general beds and specialist and/or critical care beds
  • - Current capacity of A&E departments and current waiting times
  • - Statistics about the lengths of stay for Covid-19 patients

These metrics will be able to be analysed from the national level down to individual NHS Trusts and hospitals. 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. 


While moving at speed, essential data governance procedures and established principles of openness and transparency remain at the core of everything. The NHS is following the same rules for information governance that underpin their day-to-day work.

The data brought into the backend datastore held by NHS England and NHS Improvement will largely be from existing data sources e.g. data already collected by NHS England and NHS Improvement, Public Health England and NHS Digital. All NHS data remains under NHS England and NHS Improvement control.

All the data held in the platform is subject to strict controls that meet the requirements of data protection legislation. 

GDPR principles will be followed, for example, the data will only be used for Covid-19 and not for any other purpose and only relevant information will be collected. Any request to access data will be reviewed through a single process controlled solely by NHS England and NHS Improvement and NHSX

All NHS data in the store will remain under NHS England and NHS Improvement’s 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 partners

Parties involved

NHSX along with NHS England and Improvement are leading on this project working with multiple partners leveraging internal skills and also skills from the wider NHS family. The team is being led by the Director of AI, Indra Joshi, and Ming Tang, Director of Data/Analytics, NHS England/Improvement

  • - Microsoft is supporting NHSX and NHS England’s technical teams, who have built a backend data store on Microsoft’s cloud platform, Azure, to bring multiple data sources into a single, secure location. A G-cloud data processing contract is in place.

  • - Palantir Technologies UK is providing the software, Palantir Foundry, that powers the front end data platform. Palantir Foundry, which has been primarily developed in the UK, enables disparate data to be integrated, cleaned, and harmonised in order to develop a single source of truth that will support decision-making. Foundry is built to protect data by design. A G-cloud data processing contract is in place. Palantir is a data processor, not a data controller, and cannot pass on or use the data for any wider purpose without the permission of NHS England

  • - Amazon Web Services (AWS) is helping to provide infrastructure and technologies that are enabling NHSX and its partners to quickly and securely launch the new Covid-19 response platform for critical public services at a time when it is important for public and private sector organisations to work together to combat this crisis. AWS has the highest score awarded by the NHS Data Security & Protection (DSP) Toolkit.

  • - Faculty is a London-based AI technology specialist that has an existing partnership with NHSX and is now supporting the development and execution of the data response strategy. This includes developing dashboards, models and simulations to provide key central government decision-makers with a deeper level of information about the current and future coronavirus situation to help inform the response.

  • - Google: The NHS is exploring the use of tools in the G Suite family to allow the NHS to collect critical real-time information on hospital responses to Covid-19. Data collected would be aggregated operational data only such as hospital occupancy levels and A&E capacity. It will not include any form of identifiable patient data. 

These organisations, in particular, have been chosen because of their knowledge in big data and the skills they have for working with big data

After the outbreak

When the pandemic abates and the outbreak is contained, the NHS will close the Covid-19 datastore. The Data Processing agreements put in place with the organisations listed above include the steps which need to be taken to cease processing and to either destroy or return data to NHS England and NHS Improvement once the public health emergency situation has ended.

View More
Relative articles
Collect Share