Publish date: 01 April 2022

UCLH is to work in partnership with University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust in a major digital health initiative in which researchers use data collected in acute care settings to improve patient care.

Acute care is the provision of unplanned medical care, from out-of-hours primary care, ambulance assessment, emergency medicine, to surgery and intensive care. It is traditionally a difficult area to research at scale but also a national priority area for patient care.

The work will mean UCLH becomes a key partner in a Health Data Research UK (HDR UK) programme called PIONEER, the Health Data Research Hub for Acute Care, led by UHB.

PIONEER is an ethically approved research partnership that collects and curates patient data from acute care across the health economy, including primary, secondary, social care, and ambulance service to support research.

This critically important anonymised database and partnership provides valuable insights to enable innovative healthcare organisations to develop, test and deliver advances in acute clinical care and patient and public representatives are at the heart of the work undertaken by PIONEER with robust processes in place to safeguard patient data.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the need for greater volumes of accurate and real-time patient data to support rapid learning and the investigation of new diagnostics and treatments for acute care became even more vital.

The addition of UCLH to the partnership will allow HDR UK PIONEER to further scale its patient dataset, accelerate innovation within acute care to support the development of new insights which provide better care for the patients we serve.

In one project within the partnership, researchers will gain insight from data on the microbial causes of infection and on antibiotic use. This vital work will improve antibiotic stewardship and help reduce antibiotic resistance, preserving the antibiotics we need for the future.

In another project, health data from the earliest stages of an unplanned or emergency admission across both Trusts will help develop new tools to identify those most at risk of deteriorating health.  The strength of this partnership ensures data from people from communities underserved by research are included in the analysis, and so will benefit from the findings.

PIONEER and UCLH both use a Data Trust Committee, where patients and members of the public provide oversight on all data sharing decisions. The partnership will bring these public contributors together, to ensure all data sharing decisions are supported by the public, with patient benefit at the heart of every decision made.

Researchers will use data according to widely implemented international standards, which will pave the way for more partners in the future and enable research with other national and international sites.

Professor Bryan Williams, UCLH Director of Research and front-line physician, said: “This partnership between major institutions in London and Birmingham builds on the legacy of our strong partnership working throughout the Covid pandemic. Acute medical care is hugely valued by patients and a key areas of NHS activity but has received too little research attention. We want to fix that and this partnership with our colleagues in Birmingham will transform our ability to gain rapid and novel insights, to further improve care and patient outcomes in acute medical settings across the NHS. It is also important that patients and the public are at the centre of this partnership, guiding our safe use of data, through our Data Trust Committee.”

Chief Medical Officer at University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust (UHB) Professor Simon Ball, said: “This is a fantastic example of how two digitally mature NHS trusts can work together to drive improvements in the care we provide to our patients. It allows us to work to combine the strength of our NHS partnership with the strength of our supporting academic institutions. PIONEER offers a dataset which will enable effective, rapid innovation. With a greater and wider dataset, models, trends and advances can be sped up. This expanded partnership with UCLH will allow us to do just that at a time where the health service needs this most.”

Chief Innovation Officer, UHB, Tim Jones, said: “Demand for acute health services are at record levels, traditional approaches to innovation will not meet the scale and speed that change will be required to meet this demand, yet despite this, there has been less innovation in acute care than in many other areas across all health services.

Professor Elizabeth Sapey, Director of HDRUK PIONEER Hub, and an acute medicine and respiratory consultant at UHB, said: “As a doctor working in a busy emergency admission unit, I have seen first-hand how siloed health data is slowing our ability to transform healthcare for people when they are suddenly unwell.  This exciting partnership brings together the significant expertise of UCLH and UHB. Unlocking  this combined health data and providing clear public oversight of how this data is used will lead to real patient benefits.”

HDR UK PIONEER is linked to the NIHR Biomedical Research Centres (BRC) at both Birmingham and UCLH and can therefore utilise the BRC infrastructure and experimental medicine approaches to enhance innovations to evolve acute care provision for the benefit of patients.

PIONEER is one of a network of Hubs which are centres of excellence with expertise, tools and knowledge to maximise insights and innovations developed from health data and is funded by the Medical Research Committee (MRC) - part of UK Research and Innovation.