The national director for data and analytics at NHS England and Improvement has spoken at Digital Health Rewired about the “pivotal role” data played during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Speaking at the AI and Data Summit on March 19, Ming Tang outlined the journey her team and its partners have been on since March 2020.

“So this is very much a story of three parts,” she told the Rewired audience.

“At the beginning, there was a huge rapid response in getting data sources established and legal basis sorted out, in the middle we were really trying to respond and predict the second and third waves and now we get into the vaccine rollout and how we are going to respond and recover our services.”

Tang shared examples of “how data has been pivotal to the NHS” and what has been learnt over the last year.

One example was the formation of the Covid-19 Data Store, which was set up in 2020 with the aim of using data to monitor the spread of the virus and implement appropriate measures to ensure services and support is available to patients.

Tang said the during the first wave of the pandemic the data store showed where support in the NHS was needed.

“In the first wave, we developed a lot of functionality and learning on how to work collaboratively and how to rapidly develop new analytical tools,” she added.

“New functionality came along in days not weeks.”

As the first wave came to an end, Tang said that her team moved to a period of using machine learning and working with academic partners to look at the impact of the virus.

“We were better organised within our platform but unfortunately that did not last long as the second peak came along, but we were more aligned and measured with our responses,” Tang said.

So where is the NHS now at with data? Tang said attention has turned swiftly to the vaccine rollout, adding that the platform is now looking at allocation of bookings and readiness of vaccination venues.

However, attention has also turned to health inequalities, specifically looking at ethnicity and deprivation.

Tang said this data has “really shone a light” on the uptake of the Covid vaccine and resulted in her team working and engaging with local Public Health England leaders as well as local communities to help reduce vaccination hesitancy.

“We’ve also exposed lots of data quality issues and as part of this programme and we will now embark on a new programme to improve data on ethnicity, better understanding of where our staff are, better basic services and information to help better manage the supply chain,” she added.

“I think we have come through this with a really good set of tools and information that we can now build into managing population health, looking at how we recover our services to really design services to improve unmet need and access to services which is really critical information that we will need going forward.”

Digital Health Rewired 2021 is running from 15-19 March and is free for everyone from NHS, public sector, independent providers, charities and education sectors, plus start-ups less than three-years old.

You can book your place here