COVID 19 has changed the way people interact with each other and health services. The Welsh Government needs multidisciplinary expertise to inform devolved public health policy which can affect people’s day to day life for months, while also ensuring that essential services such as hospital and ambulances are not overwhelmed.
Prof Biagio Lucini and Prof Mike Gravenor headed a team which provided the Welsh Government and the NHS Trusts with mathematical model scenarios of how COVID 19 might affect hospital and associated health services. By bringing together epidemiologists, mathematical modellers, and supercomputing research software engineers; and through working day-to-day with colleagues in the NHS, Public Health Wales and the Welsh Government, the team was able to supply emergency rapid-response analyses at many challenging points of the pandemic.
The Welsh Government used the Swansea Model to help plan their response to COVID 19 from May 2020, through the Wales Technical Advisory Cell, which provides coordination of scientific and technical advice to support Welsh Government decision makers during emergencies.
The first key result was to provide an early warning of the huge potential for a second winter wave, by generating and regularly updating the ‘Reasonable Worst Case’, used by NHS Hospitals and the Ambulance Service. At an operational level, the models and the advice of the Swansea Team have supported NHS organisations to accurately predict critical care and hospital bed requirements. By being able to provide accurate forecasts and track the observed versus actual, organisations were able to maintain and give hope to extremely fatigued clinical staff, that we were close to, and then over the peak. This confidence has undoubtedly helped individuals and organisations through one of the most challenging periods the NHS faced in recent times.
The research was then used to inform the Wales ‘Firebreak’ and the control of the virus over Christmas 2020. Subsequently, this research was used beyond March 2021 in the design of the road map out of lockdown, determination of the dates of the 2021 Senedd Elections, the impact of vaccination and the emergence of the Delta variant and the relaxation of isolation rules in Summer 2021.
The work has continued to inform policy following the rise of new variants, and on-going vaccination booster programmes.