Amazon and Microsoft join NHS project battling pandemic

Amazon and Microsoft are some of the US tech firms involved in the NHS-led project to better allocate hospital resources during the coronavirus pandemic.

The data usually collected by the NHS’ 111 telephone service is now set to be combined with additional sources which will be able to predict the need to distribute ventilators, hospital beds, and medical staff across the UK.

Tech companies such as Amazon, Microsoft, Palantir and Faculty AI are reported to be aiding the NHS in developing a visual dashboard showcasing the data already collected by the NHS and its partners. The information includes the use of ventilators (by location and type), the number of hospital staff on sick leave, patient occupancy levels, A&E capacity, as well as the length of the hospital stay for patients who tested positive for COVID-19.

The visual dashboard would make it easier for decision-makers to keep track of the spread of the virus, identify hotspots, manage resources, and even divert patients to the hospitals that are most equipped to take care of them.

"Every hospital is going to be thinking: Have we got enough ventilators? Well, we need to keep ours because who knows what's going to happen - and that might not be the optimal allocation of ventilators," a source in one of the tech companies involved told the BBC.

"Without a holistic understanding of how many 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."

According to the BBC, Amazon is providing the cloud computing resources required via AWS, while Microsoft Azure has built "gigantic" data storage capacities. Palantir’s Foundry software is said to combine the data sources together.

The involvement of the companies in the initiative comes after they took part in a digital summit at 10 Downing Street, earlier this month, where Boris Johnson called for support from the tech sector in battling the COVID-19 pandemic. The prime minister has since also tested positive for the virus.

Sabina Weston

Having only graduated from City University in 2019, Sabina has already demonstrated her abilities as a keen writer and effective journalist. Currently a content writer for Drapers, Sabina spent a number of years writing for ITPro, specialising in networking and telecommunications, as well as charting the efforts of technology companies to improve their inclusion and diversity strategies, a topic close to her heart.

Sabina has also held a number of editorial roles at Harper's Bazaar, Cube Collective, and HighClouds.