Welsh Health Cloud technology to bring healthcare benefits to UK NHS

A new £600K project has brought Swansea University researchers and Welsh eHealth companies together, to develop cloud computing technology which will deliver significant long-term benefits both to the UK NHS and the Welsh economy.

Health Cloud The 20-month Health Cloud project, led by David Ford, Professor of Health Informatics at the University’s College of Medicine, will support clinical care and enable the effective allocation of resources across the healthcare system, as well as bridging the gap between Welsh eHealth companies – typically SMEs – and their potential NHS UK market.

The project, supported by a £240K grant through the Welsh Government’s European funded Academic Expertise for Business (A4B) programme, involves partnership with Monmouthshire-based The Ascent Group, and Applied Health Intelligence Limited, a division of Gesundheitsforen Leipzig GmbH, based in Swansea.

Business Minister Edwina Hart said: “This is a good example of collaboration between academia and Welsh businesses that can potentially benefit the healthcare system and the Welsh economy.

“A tremendous amount of innovative research is carried out in Welsh universities which Welsh businesses can tap into and help commercialise, and I am pleased our A4B programme is actively supporting new opportunities for e Health companies.”

The initiative aims to create a secure NHS Health Cloud environment, where accredited applications used to analyse healthcare data are developed and hosted, and then made available to NHS staff UK-wide on an on-demand ‘pay per use’ basis.

This would allow users to trial various software products at a significantly reduced cost and before reaching the stage where a formal procurement process was required. 

As a result, this would give the NHS the key advantage of sampling and comparing different applications within the Health Cloud, and before making a significant financial investment in any single application.

Welsh eHealth companies would also benefit from access to their potential NHS market, which has previously been inaccessible to them, with a rapid return on investment when developing applications.

David Ford2012 David Ford, Professor of Health Informatics at Swansea University’s College of Medicine, said: “Healthcare data is highly sensitive and transmission of it for analysis – particularly outside the secure NHS network – is severely restricted. Consequently this is neither practical nor desirable.

“The alternative – for NHS organisations to buy licensed copies of analytical software programmes to install on their own servers within the secure NHS network – requires a very long and expensive procurement process, which effectively excludes all but the largest multinational software vendors. 

“For these reasons, the healthcare sector has not been able to take full advantage of the advancements in information technology.”

A commitment to data security lies at the heart of the project; the Health Cloud would be built within the secure NHS network and make use of state of the art digital fingerprinting and audit trails technologies, to provide a secure high-performance environment.

A key concept is that all analytics on NHS data will be securely performed within the host NHS network environment.

“The Health Cloud design will immediately analyse and interpret the data provided, and return a result to the submitting clinician without storing the data,” added Professor Ford.

“As a result, healthcare data will not leave the secure NHS network at any stage, and no additional copies of healthcare data will be made. Applications deployed on the Health Cloud will be quality assured in advance to ensure they meet NHS data security and information governance standards.

“This will ensure that the Health Cloud design will create a unique secure and trusted environment within the NHS network, which will give NHS staff confidence that they can analyse healthcare data using the available applications, while complying in full with NHS data security and information governance standards.

“Software users will be also able to provide feedback to the eHealth companies, to enable them to swiftly develop and shape their products and services according to the market demands, which will support innovation and NHS-led software development.”

Image 1 caption: Left to right, James Zorab, Director of The Ascent Group; David Ford, Professor of Health Informatics, Swansea University; Julie Kennedy, ehi2 Business Development Manager, Swansea University; Kevin Curtis, Director of Applied Health Intelligence Limited.

Image 2 caption: David Ford, Professor of Health Informatics at Swansea University’s College of Medicine.