At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, NHSX – a joint unit between the Department of Health and Social Care, NHS England and NHS Improvement – quickly and securely launched a response platform for critical public services.

Supporting healthcare systems. 
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This platform visualised information from multiple parts of the NHS in a single view, helping the organisation to decide where best to allocate resources by providing a better understanding of how the coronavirus is spreading, when and where the healthcare system will face most strain, and which interventions are proving more effective than others in helping to mitigate the crisis.

Getting a better understanding of how the coronavirus spreads is of the upmost importance to the NHS, as UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock said on the BBC: “Without a holistic understanding of how many [ventilators] 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."

The response platform is just one of a number of initiatives Amazon Web Services (AWS) is supporting, helping the NHS to innovate and experiment quickly by funding proof of concepts and initial development of initiatives during the pandemic. We have supported the NHS to respond swiftly to COVID-19 by:

  1. Supporting innovation at scale and speed
  2. Helping to control the spread of the virus
  3. Enabling the NHS to deliver more care, to more people, across the country
  4. Driving research into COVID-19

These initiatives not only help the NHS allocate resources more effectively, they also protect its employees, and ensure more people in the UK access the healthcare services they need as quickly and easily as possible.

We began working with the NHS after we responded to a request from the Government for technology companies to set out how they could support the response to COVID-19. We are one of a number of companies working to help the NHS to quickly assemble tools and applications.

AWS has been given the highest score awarded by the NHS Data Security & Protection (DSP) Toolkit. This means healthcare customers can be assured that when using AWS, they are accessing a secure platform, which NHS Digital has confirmed can be used for sensitive data that enables rapid response – precisely what’s needed for applications that have be built and deployed quickly during this crisis.

The NHS recommends using encryption for sensitive information stored in the cloud, and AWS uses an array of encryption tools that enable the NHS to encrypt its data at rest or in motion. Customers can choose from a number of third-party security solutions for their security and encryption requirements. The NHS always retains control of the data it stores in the AWS cloud and AWS does not have access to any of the data in the applications that were deployed during COVID-19. The NHS decides where the data is stored and who has access to it. Content that has been encrypted is rendered useless without the applicable decryption keys, which are kept by the customer.

Supporting innovation at scale and speed

AWS enabled the NHS to quickly innovate at scale during the pandemic, providing credits to develop proof of concepts and swiftly test ideas for new initiatives. AWS established a dedicated global COVID-19 Disaster Response fund, specifically to support customers like the NHS to quickly test and deploy new solutions.

The critical response platform provides more accurate visibility on factors including hospital occupancy levels, emergency room capacity, and patient wait times, to help inform and coordinate the national response to COVID-19. We provided NHSX with the underlying infrastructure technology for the platform, to enable the NHS to aggregate information from across the healthcare service and other partner organisations. Together with our partners in the initiative, we were able to work quickly with NHSX to stand up the platform.

Controlling the spread of the virus

The NHS worked with AWS and technology consultancy Slalom to set up an automated service that aimed to reach 1.5 million of the UK’s most vulnerable people in order to help them register to receive social and medical care, and essential supplies. The service, which was set up in 48 hours thanks to the flexibility of cloud tools and technology, enabled the NHS and the government to act quickly to reach vulnerable groups, as the UK prepared to enter lockdown.

Amazon employees in a fulfilment centre packing medical supplies ready for the government into boxes. They are wearing hi-vis jackets and face masks.

Jonathan Benger, the Chief Medical Officer at NHS Digital said: “This new service will help people to get the encouragement, advice and support that they need.”

By using technology to automate manual tasks, such as checking if a discharged patient has all the support they need, and providing regular checks for any changes in care needs, NHS frontline staff involved in the care of vulnerable people are able to cover more ground faster, and contact more people than they would otherwise be able to.
This helps maximise the allocation of resources to where they are most needed, ensuring people who require urgent medical care, or assistance with getting essential supplies such as food and medicine, are attended to first.

Throughout the coronavirus crisis, our teams worldwide have been working around the clock to ensure we continue to provide important services, such as the delivery of test kits, to help keep citizens safe.

Amazon is supporting the UK Government to make COVID-19 testing accessible for the whole population by leveraging our logistics network to deliver test kits to homes around the country. This will ensure those not able to travel to a test centre can still take a test.

AWS has provided the technology to power the portals through which UK citizens and keyworkers request a test, either at a testing facility or delivered to their own home. We waived our fees to support the development of this service and testing it at scale.

Helping the NHS deliver more care, to more people, across the country

In response to the COVID-19 outbreak, Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust (CUH) created and launched a Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) training website to help protect healthcare workers from contracting and spreading the virus.

The website runs entirely on AWS and was built by a Cambridge volunteer team and an AWS partner, the UK multinational IT services provider Specialist Computer Centres (SCC). The project was instigated by Dr Matt Butler, part of CUH COVID-19 team.

The website is a resource for the whole of the NHS on the practical aspects of PPE and was developed in collaboration with experts in infectious diseases at CUH. It explains the correct procedures in different clinical scenarios through a series of videos - such as what to do with equipment after it has become contaminated, and how to navigate a ward while wearing PPE.

Within a few days of the website’s launch, the training videos had been watched by more than 5,000 healthcare workers. The website reflects Public Health England guidance and is continuously updated as new guidance is released. Through our work with the likes of CUH we are ensuring that NHS frontline staff can work in a safer environment and ensures that they are fully prepared to attend to infected patients.

Another way AWS has been enabling the NHS to deliver care to more people, has been through telemedicine customers such as NYE Health.

Nye Health has built a highly scalable desktop and mobile-based NHS-compliant platform that allows all NHS staff (from GPs to hospital nurses and clerical staff) in the UK to offer consultations to patients via video or phone call from any device, anywhere. The service, which is free for NHS clinicians to use, has been designed to help reduce the number of patients attending GP surgeries and hospitals in person and also to enable doctors – including Nye's CEO – to work remotely when required.

It can also help free up capacity during peak periods, triaging patients so that more urgent cases are prioritised for face-to-face appointments. Nye Health uses AWS as a critical part of its platform. Using AWS, Nye Health has the flexibility to scale its business quickly and easily, and in a secure way to meet the increased demand from clinicians and patients during the COVID-19 crisis. Nye Health’s telephone and video call system is fully encrypted and compliant with NHS Digital standards. The platform currently has a reach across more than 10 million patients and is growing by as much as 150% a week, servicing thousands of patient consultations each week.

Driving research

Genomics England - a company set up and owned by the Department of Health and Social Care to run the 100,000 Genomes Project, which aims to sequence 100,000 genomes from NHS patients with a rare disease and their families, and patients with cancer - is using AWS to deliver its next-generation genomics research platform in the fight against COVID-19.

The new platform will give researchers access to genomic data collected in relation to COVID-19 so that they can study the virus to better understand it and treat people who are ill. This includes exploring whether there are genetic factors that make people more susceptible to COVID-19, as well as the efficacy of different treatment options.

The platform uses data from the GenOMICC study (Genetics of Susceptibility and Mortality in Critical Care), which sequenced the genomes of 20,000 people infected with COVID-19 who were seriously ill and in intensive care, and 15,000 people with mild symptoms. It will transform how genomic data is used for global academic research, and will provide patient data security, while enabling the flexibility required for research at the cutting edge of science.

Genomics England is using AWS’s UK infrastructure region, and enabling analysis and collaboration through British deep-tech company Lifebit’s technology platform. The data stored on the platform will never leave Genomics England’s highly secure environment but will allow flexible research access to it. Beyond the immediate focus on COVID-19, the advanced capabilities of AWS will allow Genomics England to introduce workflows for researchers in rare disease and cancer research.

According to Chris Wigley, CEO of Genomics England: “Our goal with this study is to help the national response to this terrible pandemic, using the experience we have gained through the 100,000 Genomes Project, and leveraging our ongoing work in genomic research and healthcare. As with all ground-breaking science, we don’t know what the answer is yet – but we are convening the finest minds in academia and industry to try to find out.”

Instead of buying, owning, and maintaining their own data centres and servers, organizations like the NHS can acquire essential technology on an on demand basis, by using the AWS cloud.

The initiatives we have worked on with the NHS are just some of the COVID-19 response projects AWS is supporting around the world with secure, cloud-based technology, to help people and organisations reduce the risk of transmission, access essential services, and share critical research and information.

Learn more about what AWS is doing to support the global response to COVID-19.