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 University of Strathclyde is a partner in the study, which is being led at the University of Edinburgh and also involves Health Protection Scotland (HPS) - part of Public Health Scotland - the West of Scotland Specialist Virology Centre and the University of Aberdeen. It is 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.

Chris Robertson, Professor in Strathclyde’s Department of Mathematics and Statistics and Head of Statistics with HPS, is involved in the study. He said: “This study utilises the wealth of linked health data in Scotland to construct a large cohort of individuals to follow up during the pandemic. It builds on a series of successful previous collaborations between the research team of academics and clinicians, stretching back to the H1N1 pandemic in 2009.

“The results of the analysis of the data will provide valuable information to help manage the COVID-19 pandemic in Scotland.”