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NHS turns to tech giants to help predict ventilator demand

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The NHS is collaborating with technology firms to predict demand for ventilators, hospital beds and medical personnel amid the ongoing pandemic.

Amazon, Microsoft and enigmatic data analytics firm Palantir will collaborate with the UK health service, as well as London-based Faculty AI.

Data based on calls to the NHS 111 service will be intermixed with information collected from other sources to inform the projections.

Built upon this data foundation, a set of virtual dashboards will allow healthcare leaders to identify especially vulnerable localities, monitor the health of front-line staff and funnel patients towards the facilities best equipped to treat them.

NHS resources

The new collaboration will allow the NHS to pool data held in disparate silos across multiple partner organisations, ensuring the health service is operating with the greatest possible visibility over available resources.

Amazon AWS will provide the necessary cloud infrastructure, Palantir will contribute its analytics platform and Microsoft Azure is responsible for constructing a data store for the project.

According to a source from one of the tech firms involved, the initiative will help optimise the allocation of equipment and personnel, where the self-preservation instincts of individual hospitals might otherwise stand in the way.

“Every hospital is going to be thinking: have we got enough ventilators? Well we need to keep ours because who knows what’s going to happen - and that might not be the optimal allocation of ventilators,” the source explained.

“Without a holistic understanding of how many we’ve got, where they are, who can use them, who is trained, where do we actually have patients who need them most urgently, we risk not making the optimal decisions.”

While privacy advocates might be wary of the project, the NHS insists all data used for modelling is aggregated and anonymised, thereby protecting individual privacy. Once the crisis has passed, it intends to erase all records.

UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock is expected to endorse the project imminently.

Via BBC