May 24, 2024

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Coronavirus: NHS turns to big tech to tackle Covid-19 hot spots

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The NHS has confirmed it is teaming up with leading tech firms to ensure critical medical equipment is available to the facilities most in need during the coronavirus outbreak.

It blogged the firms would create computer dashboard screens to show the spread of the virus and the healthcare system’s ability to deal with it.

These will draw on data gathered via 111 calls and Covid-19 test results.

The first should be made available to government decision-makers next week.

Four tech firms were named in the blog. Three are US-based: Microsoft, Google and Palantir. The fourth is Faculty AI, which is headquartered in London.

Amazon was not referenced but the BBC has confirmed that it is also involved.

“[It’s] very curious. They’re making a very material contribution,” a source familiar with the project commented.

Many of the details of the scheme were first reported by the BBC on Thursday.

Vulnerable groups

The blog confirmed that NHSX – a unit responsible for digital innovation – was heading the effort to harness a range of data sources, so that they can be used in combination.

The aim is to create dashboards that draw on the information as soon as it becomes available in order to help the government and health chiefs:

  • understand how the virus is spreading and identify risks to particularly vulnerable groups of people
  • proactively increase resources in emerging hot spots
  • ensure critical equipment is supplied to hospitals and other facilities in greatest need
  • divert patients to the facilities best able to care for them based on demand, resources and staffing capacity

It added that the information would “largely” be drawn from existing data sources, and would be anonymised so that individual patients could not be identified.

In time, is said, the aim was to provide a separate dashboard that could be viewed by the public.

Regarding the tech firms, it said:

  • Microsoft had built a data store on its Azure cloud computing platform to hold the information in a single, secure location
  • Palantir was providing use of its Foundry software tool, which analyses records to deliver a “single source of truth”
  • Faculty AI was developing the dashboards, models and simulations that decision-makers would be presented with
  • Google’s G Suite of productivity apps might be used to collect and aggregate real-time operational data such as occupancy levels and A&E capacity

“Microsoft remains steadfastly committed to supporting the NHS every way it can at this critical time,” Cindy Rose, the firm’s UK chief executive said.

Although not mentioned, Amazon’s AWS division will also provide additional cloud computing facilities.

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