Health data initiative gets £3.4m funding to boost COVID-19 fight

In a move that could change the course of the UK’s fight against COVID-19, healthcare workers and scientists in the North are to receive £3.4m for a health data programme which will initially focus on improving monitoring of residents in care homes.

The funding for The Better Care North Partnership comes from Health Data Research (HDR) UK and aims to improve the care and services for patients by supporting the better use of data and analytical tools and includes projects that aim to benefit some of the most vulnerable patient groups who are at greatest risk of COVID-19.

One of the major challenges for the partnership is addressing the issue of frailty, an area of unmet clinical and social care need that affects 10% of people aged over 65, rising to 25-50% of people aged over 85 years. This accounts for £15 billion of expenditure in the UK and is likely to have a growing impact due to the ageing UK population.

The partnership will initially focus on improving monitoring of residents in care homes to detect deterioration, reducing the burden of use of anticholinergic medicines, and optimising prescribing of antibiotics, thereby reducing the potential for antimicrobial resistance.

The partnership will be co-ordinated by a team of researchers from the University of Liverpool led by Professor Sir Munir Pirmohamed who is currently David Weatherall Chair of Medicine, NHS Chair of Pharmacogenetics at the University of Liverpool, Director of the MRC Centre for Drug Safety Science and Wolfson Centre for Personalised Medicine.

Professor Sir Pirmohamed said: “This partnership brings together world-class Universities, digitally enabled NHS institutions and academic health science systems. The partnership is underpinned by multidisciplinary world-leading expertise in population-based learning health systems research and a history of collaborative working, to address major challenges in frailty, an area of unmet medical and social care need.

“We serve over 16 million people in the North where the rates of poverty, morbidity, premature mortality and poorer clinical outcomes are higher than in other regions. As our population gets older, frailty and more widely, multimorbidity, exert huge system pressures.

“This partnership will help us to use all available data and advanced analytical techniques to gain actionable insights for optimising delivery of care for those who need it most.”

Dr Séamus O’Neill, Chief Executive of the Northern Health Science Alliance, said: “This is an excellent partnership of some of the most active and able institutions in the region.

“As we face an unprecedented health crisis in the region, initiatives such as these are essential in harnessing our available assets for the good of the population.”

In addition to The Better Care North Partnership, HDR is also establishing another health data research partnership in the south-west of England, co-ordinated by the University of Bristol. Both will form part of HDR UK’s network of research sites and hubs, which bring together world-class research and innovation expertise, a track record in using health data to derive new knowledge and scientific discovery and enable the responsible use of data to speed up benefits to patients and the population.

Professor Simon Ball, Medical Director at University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust and Research Director at Health Data Research UK, said: “As healthcare professionals we make hundreds of decisions a week with our patients. In doing so we aim to decide what will work best for each individual. Electronic healthcare records offer the opportunity to combine patients’ data with information on best practice, so that we can reliably deliver high quality care in complex settings and pressured environments. Beyond that we can use the resulting data on patients’ outcomes and experience, to continuously learn from, and improve on, everyday practice in ways that are applicable across the NHS.”