Since the earliest days of the COVID-19 outbreak in the UK, the SAIL Databank has played a pivotal role in the One Wales strategic response to this unprecedented global threat.
Requests for access to the SAIL Databank and the requirements for additional data sources to provide the necessary details to understand the impact of COVID-19 on the population of Wales has led to a substantial amount of work being required to enable this.
With a number of rich, new data sources provided by Health and Social Care organisations collaborating as part of the One Wales response to COVID-19, both the opportunities and understanding required from these new sources and the workload on researchers within Swansea University’s Data Scientist group has increased dramatically. Here we look at some of the faces behind the science.
Ashley Akbari has worked as Senior Research Manager and Data Scientist for three years and with the SAIL Databank for over ten. As part of Health Data Research UK (HDR UK), he manages a team of Researchers and Data Scientists who normally work on research projects that can sometimes take years to complete. Ashley explains;
“We are staffed to work on a planned amount of research at any one time. Our team use agile project management principles and practices, so are used to being flexible to research demands, but being so hands on in the response to COVID-19 has seen our work increase substantially and the response time for intelligence reduce.
“We have been methodical in our approach and ring-fenced some staff on existing research projects that have fixed deadlines to complete their outcomes, but the rest of the team are totally focussed on responding to the challenges faced by COVID-19 and providing decision-makers with the information they need. We have on the whole avoided taking annual leave and many are working far more hours than contracted due to the pandemic, but we are extremely proud to be a part of this and have done so voluntarily with the backing of a strong support system to ensure our teams physical and mental health.”
With the team informing Welsh Government’s TAG (Tactical Advisory Group) and subsequently feeding into the UK’s SAGE (Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies), researchers are acutely aware of the importance of their work at this time. Fatemeh Torabi works as a Research Officer and Data Scientist. She says;
“Research into COVID-19 requires a rapid turn-around on a short amount of time – outputs obtained today are going to support decisions and strategical planning, tomorrow. We are working synergistically, bringing together unique expertise to answer data-driven questions that directly affect the wellbeing of our friends and families across the whole UK and the world at largest.”
SAIL’s long-standing collaboration with HDR UK and ADR Wales has facilitated a large number of COVID-19-related intelligence reports and research to be undertaken. HDR UK’s vision is to unite the UK’s health data, which is often fragmented, and to make it available for research, leading to discoveries that improve people’s lives. These health data research networks, created and nurtured by HDR UK, have been vital to facilitate each home nation’s data repositories to provide data access for a high volume of COVID-19 research studies.
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: //://www.hdruk.ac.uk/covid-19/
BY ASHLEY AKBARI, SWANSEA UNIVERSITY