NHS starts trial of machine learning system to predict demand

The NHS has started trialling a machine learning system that aims to predict the upcoming demand for intensive care resources needed to treat patients suffering from the COVID-19 virus.

The COVID-19 Capacity Planning and Analysis System (CPAS) was developed by data scientists from NHS Digital and a team of researchers from the University of Cambridge. It uses data from Public Health England in order to help hospitals plan and manage the deployment of life-saving resources, such as ventilators, across the NHS.

The first stage alpha trials began this week at four hospitals across England in order to demonstrate the accuracy of the system and to see if it needs altered in order to cater to the needs of hospitals.

NHS Digital Chief Medical Officer Professor Jonathan Benger said that being able “to predict demand for critical care beds, equipment and staff” is “essential”.

“CPAS allows individual hospitals to plan ahead, ensuring they can give the best care to every patient. At the same time, the wider NHS can ensure that the ventilators, other equipment and drugs that each intensive care unit will need are in place at exactly the time they are required.

"In the longer term, it is hoped that CPAS can be used to predict hospital length of hospital stay, discharge planning and wider intensive care demand in the time that will come after the pandemic.”

CPAS is based on a machine learning engine called Cambridge Adjutorium, which was developed by University of Cambridge engineer Professor Mihaela van der Schaar with the assistance of her multidisciplinary team.


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Cambridge Adjutorium is said to be a “highly flexible machine learning system” which was developed with medical researchers in mind. It was previously used to develop insights into cardiovascular disease and cystic fibrosis.

“Two weeks ago, the team shared a method with the world that showed it was possible to do capacity planning for COVID-19 patients,” said Dr Jem Rashbass, executive director for Master Registries and Data at NHS Digital.

“We recognised that there was an opportunity to industrialise the methods and deploy this as a service through the national infrastructure managed by NHSD and deliver a real data-driven planning tool to hospitals.”

If CPAS proves successful in the trial, the system will be launched nationwide across the NHS.

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.

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