The COVID-19 pandemic produced a host of new challenges for the research community. But a national network, led by Professor of Applied Healthcare Modelling and Data Science and Director of our Operational Research (OR) Team PenCHORD, Martin Pitt, has been strengthening the community’s response by connecting operational research and researchers with health and care professionals.
The N-CORN initiative (National COVID-19 Operational Research Network) is a national network of operational researchers. Meeting remotely since the outset of the pandemic, researchers have been sharing research and working collaboratively across the OR community and with healthcare professionals, to help ensure access to the latest research and the right resources at the right time. The accumulated knowledge and expertise bank has facilitated the sharing of best practice, ideas and experience across the health OR and analytical community as well as the most effective use of skills and research to address the key issues.
Numerous positive impacts have arisen from the collaborations, including the forecasting of likely demand on frontline NHS services, epidemiological modelling to understand the spread of Covid-19, Demand and Capacity analysis for COVID-19 at NHS England, modelling to inform End of Life care management and more recently computer simulation to support the organisation and delivery of the Covid-19 vaccination programme.
Professor Christos Vasilakis, Director, Bath Centre for Healthcare Innovation & Improvement credits his involvement with the network to a new project. He said: “It was through N-CORN and its project and collaborator databases that I came across a project being put together by Li Ding from Durham University and Dong Li from Loughborough. We’d been working in a very similar area, so together we formed a research team and were awarded project funding from UKRI for our work on resource modelling during a public health emergency.”
Richard Wood is Head of Modelling and Analytics at NHS Bristol, North Somerset and South Gloucestershire Clinical Commissioning Group. He said: “I’ve found the N-CORN meetings really valuable. For me, working in the NHS in modelling and analytics, it’s been useful to see what’s going on in the OR community – to learn from their successes, but also to be aware of what not to try given any difficulties or limitations.”
Sai Khunpha, Demand & Capacity Technical Lead at NHS England and NHS Improvement has been an active member of the network. He said: “We’ve really appreciated working together with colleagues in N-CORN – the fantastic collection of academic expertise and operational experience really opened up opportunities for collaboration and change in ways that we hadn’t seen before. We’ve seen great work come out of this.”
As well as forming a bank of expertise and contacts and providing access to up-to-the-minute research, the network has helped to identify where research needs lie and to direct relevant research towards the people and places it is most needed. Quality assurance has been provided through critical review as well as by increasing reach through dissemination to the wider national and international research and healthcare community.
N-CORN will be going on to focus on the application of operational research methods to address the pressing issues caused by the backlog in elective appointments generated by the Covid-19 crisis. Professor Martin Pitt said of this work: “In this context the collaboration between healthcare and research communities is critical to making a real difference.”