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Public Health England sets up sickness surveillance system



System coordinates data from different reporting platforms to help NHS anticipate hospital admissions during winter

NHS England is setting up a sickness surveillance system to help it track and plan for outbreaks of winter illnesses such as norovirus.

It is planning to use data gathered by Public Health England (PHE) to study trends and provide early warnings of outbreak. This should help NHS hospitals anticipate rises in admissions and produce a planned response, such as converting ‘swing’ wards from elective to emergency care for patients with respiratory problems.

PHE told UKAuthority that the exercise will incorporate a range of bespoke surveillance systems, each with their own reporting platforms and focused on specific sources of data, including laboratory reports, excess mortality monitoring, hospital emergency departments, 111 calls and GP practices.

These will be coordinated through the influenza section of the PHE Respiratory Diseases Department into its Weekly National Influenza Report.

Data of this type was first gathered in 2012 to try to predict illnesses that could have impacted the Olympic Games. PHE has gradually increased the scope and content and now carries out a comprehensive daily data collection across GP practices, 111, out of hours GPs and A&Es.

It will be used alongside other information such as weather forecasts to anticipate demand for the week or so ahead.

Anticipate surges

Professor Keith Willett, NHS England’s medical director for acute care, said: “We can look at the trends across all of the PHE health data sources and try to anticipate surges in demand.

“The breadth and variety of surveillance data from PHE gives us vital time to put escalation plans in place, to free up beds and reconfigure wards. We can plan how to best provide care to a higher number of patients with a specific illness, and to corral patients who are suffering the same illnesses. It also means we can better predict when things will return to normal and plan accordingly.”

Image (amended) from William Brawley, CC BY 2.0 through flickr

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