Trusted relationships, built on strong processes, policies and a common understanding have been at the heart of the rapid delivery of research intelligence for the One Wales response to COVID-19.
The expertise held within the Population Data Science group at Swansea University has been increasingly embraced by teams within Welsh Government as they sought intelligence that would help to guide and deliver on the ambitions set out in the world-renowned Well-being of Future Generations Act 2015.
In recent years, relationships and partnerships have been forged thanks to the Welsh Government’s ongoing support, investment and interest in the SAIL Databank with the potential of linked data to inform policy increasingly realised. More recently, research programmes housed within the Population Data Science group have built on this. Administrative Data Research Wales (ADR Wales) and the Health Data Research UK (HDR UK) investment in Wales has formally brought together the work of our data scientists, technical and governance teams with those at the heart of policy delivery in Welsh Government.
As COVID-19 emerged in Wales a rapid, intelligence-driven response was required which saw the coming together of partners to inform the One Wales response to COVID-19. This collaborative partnership has resulted in an agile, responsive approach to tackling policy-relevant intelligence generation, based on both the constant and newly developing priorities for tackling COVID-19 in Wales. This collaborative approach has informed the Welsh Government’s TAG (Technical Advisory Group) and subsequently the UK’s SAGE (Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies).
Ashley Akbari Senior Research Manager and Data Scientist with SAIL Databank, HDR UK and ADR Wales explains:
“In Wales, we have really benefitted from our existing relationships and networks, which have enabled us to almost instantly draw upon relevant data mechanisms, contacts and pathways that would otherwise have taken a long time to establish and work through.
“These existing relationships with colleagues who were directly feeding into policy discussions and decisions made sure we were focussed on the right priorities at the right times. The intelligence generated has been directly requested and informed by TAG priorities, and we continue to generate new understanding which has the people of Wales at its heart.
“Utilising our existing partnerships in ADR Wales and HDR UK has really helped and continues to be of benefit to ensure that people with the appropriate expertise and experience in informing these priorities, intelligence generation and planning are involved in the effort.”
Speaking of the response to COVID-19 in Wales and how population-scale data linkage is being used, Glyn Jones, Chief Statistician for Wales and Co-Director of ADR Wales:
“Good government policy that solves social and economic problems and improves lives needs good evidence, and that has been achieved by bridging the gap between government and academia in partnerships such as ADR Wales and the HDR UK investment.
“The work using administrative data for research here in Wales has been UK-leading and through the course of the pandemic we have utilised these skills and expertise to securely and ethically link data that helps us to understand the outcomes and impact of interventions. We have quickly been able to undertake research to understand how COVID-19 is affecting people in Wales.
“By linking together anonymised data we have been able to move quickly to understand the situation in Wales. For instance, we have been able to understand through anonymous data how many children are living in shielded households, and how many teachers are shielded.
“As we move forward, I want to encourage others in departments throughout Wales and the UK to realise the benefit of access to data in a secure, robust and ethnical manner. This will allow us all to produce high quality research that will benefit Wales and the rest of the UK.”
To see the list of currently available data sources and their cadence, along with the latest SAGE reports please see the HDR UK website which is updated on a weekly basis: https://www.hdruk.ac.uk/covid-19/
BY CATHRINE RICHARDS, SWANSEA UNIVERSITY