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Bringing together NHS, academia and industry to support the COVID-19 response

8 April 2020 | Professor Mike Roberts
Our Managing Director Prof Mike Roberts outlines how we are responding to COVID-19.

At UCLPartners, we’ve been bringing together our resources across academia, NHS and industry to support the COVID-19 response. At a time when heads are down dealing with a crisis situation it is incumbent on us to do all we can to support and to step in where we can to bring together knowledge, expertise and (virtually) people from across sectors to help ensure the most effective response in what are challenging times.

Our partnership is based around London, Essex, Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire, with London emerging at the epicentre of the virus in the UK. Hospitals in central London were the first to receive COVID-19 cases in the country, and the capital is a couple of weeks ahead of the rest of the UK in terms of its COVID-19 trajectory.

This means that our NHS partners in London and surrounding counties have been at the cutting edge of UK’s efforts to effectively contain and treat the disease. This has required a herculean effort to put in place new ways of working, develop effective treatment protocols and ensure staff wellbeing – all while working at tremendous speed and scale. As a respiratory physician its clear to me that this virus causes a clinical syndrome very different from those we are used to managing. COVID affects the lungs in a variety of ways that manifest at different phases of the illness causing mid and late time-course relapses in some cases. We are however learning new things daily that are helping us better understand how to treat the illness and sharing that learning is key to our future success.

As part of our response we are supporting the system in three broad areas:

Providing targeted practical support

Many of our clinically qualified staff have stepped back into frontline clinical work, as have many of the clinicians employed by our academic partners. Other non-clinical staff have stepped in to support the set-up of NHS Nightingale at the Excel Centre. We are drawing on the expertise of our health technology advisors to support remote consultations in secondary care in northcentral London and the set-up of a virtual respiratory clinic in Essex, as well as supporting national NHSX and NHSE led roll out of new technologies to support the COVID-19 response. Our AHSC has been involved in developing a rapid solution to increase the supply of ventilators by reverse engineering a CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure) device through a collaboration between engineers at UCL, UCLH clinicians, and Mercedes-AMG High Performance Powertrains. The Government has placed an order for up to 10,000.

Sharing learning – rapidly

We know that clinicians are rapidly learning what works both clinically and non-clinically to ensure the best care for patients and ensure that frontline staff are supported physically and mentally though tough times. Effective treatment of COVID-19 in ICU is proving to be quite different to that for regular acute respiratory distress and this learning needs to be rapidly gathered and shared with colleagues both in our region and nationally. We have brought together 10 top tips for managing COVID-19 from our frontline colleagues, have been working with the Intensive Care Society to share the learning from a webinar of ICS experts, and are mobilising the AHSN patient safety collaborative to gather and share learning on COVID-19 in critical care settings across our geography and beyond, with the aim of developing a community of practice to support multidisciplinary teams to implement this learning.

Planning for the longer term

COVID-19 will put unprecedented pressures on local health care systems, and people with COVID-19 or at high risk of COVID-19 will need to be prioritised. However, there is a large cohort of currently healthy people with long-term conditions that need active management.  To help keep people healthy and well in their homes, without risking an exacerbation in the number of people whose conditions have deteriorated during COVID-19, we are developing a package of support for primary care to help with managing and responding to people with a discrete set of long-term conditions.

The situation is developing rapidly and we at UCLPartners are determined to be responsive across our partnership and beyond as priorities and needs change and evolve. The work our staff delivers has already made a real difference. We are here and ready to respond to the needs of our partner organisations and to the patients they serve.