Public Health Scotland’s data and intelligence response to Covid-19
As a Public Health Scotland (PHS) information analyst, I’ve had a front row seat to the data and intelligence response from our organisation to keep the public, leaders in government and the health service informed on the latest progress of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Before Covid-19, we were delighted with a few hundred views of a yearly, quarterly or monthly publication. Today, I note down over 80,000 views of our Covid-19 daily dashboard in the last 24 hours and similar high level traffic (downloads and API calls) to the associated Open Data.
Who is using the data?
NHS Scotland, BBC News, the University of Edinburgh, the University of Glasgow, Biomathematics & Statistics Scotland, Scottish Water, Public Health England, and Travelling Tabby… and many more including your family and friends.
Covid-19 has changed everything
At the start of the pandemic there was huge demand from citizens and professionals for timely, robust and clear information. A handful of information analysts and healthcare scientists quickly learned a new dataset and developed the methodologies and code to allow Public Health Scotland to routinely publish Covid-19 statistics, 7 days a week.
See below our first daily dashboard iteration was in Arc GIS reporting on positive cases and deaths.
Innovation and collaboration
Through rapid agile development we released a number of iterations to the daily dashboard over an 18-month period. This provided users with more breakdowns and new measures.
- Testing data
- Hospital and ICU admissions
- Cases by Neighbourhood
- Combined PCR & LFD Cases
What Public Health Scotland has been up to
During this time we also had to advance and modernise our data infrastructure to deal with the rapid increase in volumes of testing that were impacting on our ability to generate daily reports on time.
We built in automation using R, an open source statistical program and language. Of the many achievements along the way, developing automation scripts had the biggest impact for my team freeing up more of their time to seek out personal development and add more variety to their work by getting involved in other projects across the Covid Data & Analytics service.
The PHS Covid-19 daily dashboard has been a consistent and transparent source of information reinforcing public health messaging throughout the pandemic. We have had to balance confidentiality, misinterpretation and the potential for unintended consequences on behaviours from our reporting.
Despite the challenges, public engagement with our data has been fantastic, boosted by mentions from the First Minister and used by journalists online and on social media. Positive feedback and examples of personal stories on how the dashboard is being utilised, for example from the shielding population, give us a nice reminder of why it is so important to deliver valuable information.
We participated in a World Health Organisation study of Covid-19 dashboards and on the Microsoft Teams call our director at the time reflected on our journey to date:
We were building the plane as we were flying it
This appropriately captured the reactive nature of our developments, the uncertainty of the rapid developing situation but also that we were successfully delivering what was required.
There has been tremendous cross organisation collaboration to deliver the data and intelligence for Scotland during these unprecedented times. I’ve yet to decide whether my colleagues have risen to the challenge out of a sense of public health duty, insanity or because of the culture we promote and the great people we work with. Some of each perhaps and it is much appreciated!
Variety is the spice…
As an information analyst, I can go from having my headphones in and 2 computer screens that look like a scene from the matrix (I like my coding environment dark theme) to presenting our latest developments to the Cabinet Secretary for Health & Social Care, the Chief Medical Officer, NHS Board clinicians or Public Health advisors.
After 11 years as an analyst in NHS/Public Health my career continues to be rewarding and presents new exciting opportunities. If there was ever a time to be involved with contributing to a Scotland where everybody thrives then that time is now.
Graham McGowan is the principal information analyst at Public Health Scotland
This piece was originally published on The Data Lab’s blog.
Please mind the gap… or healthcare may fall
Imagine sharing a lengthy train journey with others. From beginning to end, imagine how often you might hear ‘mind the gap’ messages about embarking and disembarking safely. Picture how navigating…
Women Lead: My journey from Dragons’ Den to Silicon Valley
Following her appearance on Dragons’ Den, Sheila Hogan, serial entrepreneur, founder and chief executive of digital legacy vault, Biscuit Tin, shares her experience of her time in the Den and…
Look anywhere – the future is ‘aged tech’. But Scotland needs to be more adventurous
Scottish Care, as the representative body of independent social care providers of care home, care at home and housing support services, has been working over several years with colleagues in…
Women Lead: Engineer turned entrepreneur
We are always fascinated by other people’s stories. It’s how we connect, grow and learn from each other. Until very recently I always felt like I didn’t have a story to tell. Who…
‘Women – together we will change the dynamic in tech’
I was inspired to start a career in technology when personal computers were in their infancy and the internet decades away. My childhood dream of becoming a scientist was shaped by…
It’s time to change the future of tech apprenticeships – and we need your help
In his latest exclusive column for Futurescot, Ross Tuffee, chair of the Skills Development Scotland (SDS) Digital Economy Skills Group, calls on tech employers to get involved in shaping the…
What AI difference a year makes
Amazingly, it’s been one year since the publication of Scotland’s AI Strategy. And what a year it has been. Demanding but rewarding, with good progress made and great foundations laid…
International Women’s Day: It’s time to harness power of women in technology
As we celebrate International Women’s Day, I hope to be part of a future where barriers that prevent women from competing on a level playing field in the work environment…