Under the tech spotlight 21/07/2020

An interview with Stephen Lock: CITO at The National Institute for Health Research

The impact of COVID-19 on The National Institute for Health Research and its BI Teams

Stephen Lock is the Chief Information Technology Officer (CITO) at The National Institute for Health Research. We asked Stephen about the effects that COVID-19 has had on The National Institute for Health Research and its BI teams. Here’s what he said:


“The organisation rapidly became really important part of the Government’s response to COVID-19. The day that the UK went into lockdown, the organisation transformed overnight. All ‘normal’ projects within our portfolio of research ran on and new projects were put on hold so that we could completely focus on COVID-19.


“On behalf of the UK Government, we set up an entirely new process for applying for and conducting research within the UK, which was completed within just four days. We introduced a brand-new series of application processes, including maintaining documents, managing the update of statuses and so on.


“The organisation became the source of information for all clinical research on behalf of the UK Government. We adopted a new way of working, transitioning from a team who were reporting after the fact, to doing things live and implementing new processes for gathering information from clinical trials.


“We report daily at lunch time directly to Chief Medical Officer, the Department of Health, ministers and so on, which we have never done before (previously we had to go through various gateways). This new system has been incredibly successful – we have just recruited over 73,000 people into clinical trials in the UK, which is more than anywhere else in the world.


“The BI Team, through this, has evolved what it does – this started with dashboards to manage what research there was and where it was coming from in the world and giving people dashboards to see that. We then started to track activity, including counting where people were recruited from for the clinical trials. We mapped this out in dashboards so that, when people are planning a national response, they could log in and see where certain studies are/are not being conducted and enabling us to pinpoint certain hospitals where this is lacking.


“We built brand new visual dashboards in 24 hours, which was very powerful and led to us being asked to manage the data on behalf of UK Government, which we normally wouldn’t do.


“More recently, this has gone on to the next level. COVID-19 has broken down all sorts of barriers between data so that we now get daily feed of data from NHS England. This shows us exactly who is in hospital and where and who is on oxygen or ventilation. We have been able to map this so that people who are running the trials can, almost live, know exactly where to open up the next arm of their study. So we aren’t just reporting on data, we are directing what is happening in the national response.


“We are hopeful that we can take that to the next level again. We are going to be getting daily feeds of data on infection rates in the country so that we can help to target vaccine research.”

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