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Covid response

Data science and data management

Accurate and rapid analysis of data

During the COVID-19 pandemic, NPL’s expertise in data science had a wide range of applications and enquiries. The need for data analysis and support for remote working generated requests for our experience and knowledge.

NPL helped the Royal College of General Practitioners to produce their regular updates on communicable and respiratory diseases. NPL also worked with the Royal Surrey Hospital on supporting the remote working for as many staff as possible, not something that had been a priority before the pandemic.

NPL was able to offer help: analysing medical images, so that the maximum amount of reliable data could be extracted from scans; analysing the critical pathways in cancer care, to meet the anticipated increase in demand post-COVID; and preparing buildings for safe and efficient movement of patients and staff around hospital sites while adhering to the government guidelines.

NPL was heavily involved in testing PPE, a process that often involves several testing iterations as designs are refined. Data science allowed certain tests to be simulated, such as field of view tests, so that the computer model could predict if a design would pass the test. This helped streamline the testing and gave confidence that the PPE would pass the tests.  

NPL also investigated:

  • Using signal analysis of telephone calls to GPs or 111 to diagnose COVID-19 by analysing the acoustic signals of breathing and coughing
  • Analysing the link between mortality or diagnosed COVID-19 cases with air quality data to understand the impact of pollution

Royal Surrey Hospital (RSFT)

NPL liaised closely with RSFT to support the hospital during the crisis, and specifically on data management and quality of patient records. The RSFT will start migrating its patient administration data to a new hospital electronic patient records system (ePR) from December 2020.

In preparation, the data needs to be cleaned and prepared. NPL is developing a software tool to set up and run the data quality tests on a copy of the master database to speed up the quality assessment and data cleaning process.

The Royal College of General Practitioners

The Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) produces a weekly report for Public Health England on Communicable and Respiratory Disease, using data from GP practices across the country. The COVID-19 crisis meant that the data for the weekly report became extremely important and was more complex. NPL reached out the RCGP offering help and resource, which was gratefully accepted. NPL scientists worked for a couple of days a week with RCGP to increase the frequency of the reports as well as ensuring that the data was correctly collected, combined and analysed.

Royal Free Hospital

The Royal Free Hospital identified four areas where there were specific COVID-19 related challenges which NPL had the potential to assist: 

  1. Improving the diagnosis of thrombosis in COVID patients through image analysis
  2. Reducing mortality and morbidity in prone ventilated patients
  3. Optimising efficiency of pathways for cancer services
  4. Optimising hospital patient flow and movements around the site according to COVID constraints

NPL also carried out work with to address data interoperability and data analysis to correlate biomarkers with the COVID-19 disease state in order to optimise patient care.

Impact during COVID-19

  • Enabling organisations to operate effectively while adhering to government social distancing guidelines
  • Accelerating the pace of data analysis
  • Enabling complex analysis of data and greater understanding of uncertainty

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