Data harnessed to reveal Covid-19 spread in Scotland in real time

Data harnessed to reveal Covid-19 spread in Scotland in real time

A study that uses patient data to track the progress of the Covid-19 pandemic in near real time across Scotland is set to launch.

The project – which has been awarded £500,000 of funding from the Medical Research Council – will also be able to track the effectiveness of any new treatments or vaccines.

The study is a collaboration between the University of Aberdeen, the University of Edinburgh, University of Strathclyde, Health Protection Scotland (part of Public Health Scotland), West of Scotland Specialist Virology Centre and endorsed by the Scottish Government.

By accessing the anonymised electronic health records of at least 1.2 million people across Scotland, experts say it should be possible to form a more complete picture of the impact that Covid-19 is having on people’s health.

Scotland is uniquely placed to allow this type of research due to the rich dataset generated via the Community Health Index (CHI) number - a distinctive identifier assigned to each person in Scotland registered with the NHS.

The CHI number connects information on each hospital admission, accident and emergency visit, laboratory test results and prescriptions.

In analysing the data, it should be possible to see the impact that Covid-19 is having in different parts of Scotland and different age groups, including those categorised as ‘at-risk’.

The data analysis will be complemented by work being done to sequence the genes of the virus and results from blood and swab samples taken as part of standard clinical tests to determine who has been exposed to the coronavirus.

Sir Lewis, James Mackenzie Professor of General Practice at the University of Aberdeen and former Director of Public Health, NHS Grampian said: "This is vital research work which my colleagues and I began during the last world pandemic: H1N1 Swine Flu in 2009/10, to study the spread of that infection and to monitor the preventive effectiveness of vaccines as they became available. 

“The Covid-19 pandemic is much more serious by far, both for our immediate health and future economic wellbeing. We are applying similar but enhanced methodology to Covid-19. It is crucial that we urgently shed more light on the how Covid-19 is spreading, who has been infected, including underlying risk factors.  All these and more will guide our way through this scourge, help inform Government policy, treatments and hoped for vaccination plans, as we gain and apply new evidence for the best care of our people."

Professor Aziz Sheikh, study lead and Director of the University’s Usher Institute, said: “A key element of overcoming the pandemic in Scotland will be to understand how it is evolving in the country in near real-time. Our results will inform policymakers, clinicians and the public on the progress of the epidemic and the benefits of any interventions we take such as antiviral medicines or vaccines.”

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