The Sussex COVID-19 Modelling Cell: the methods and successes of a collaboration between public health teams in local authorities, NHS hospital trusts, NHS commissioners, and universities

Lancet. 2023 Nov:402 Suppl 1:S94. doi: 10.1016/S0140-6736(23)02086-X.


Background: The Sussex Modelling Cell (SMC) is a consortium, formed during the COVID-19 pandemic, of representatives from NHS Sussex, and the local authorities and universities in Sussex. The SMC aimed to provide public health teams with local-data-driven modelling, data analysis, and policy and commissioning advice to mitigate the impact of the pandemic on the local population. It also aimed to answer operational questions, since the Government's forecasts were not suitably applicable.

Methods: From March 23, 2020, the SMC met (virtually) every Thursday to monitor COVID-19 situation reports, answer queries related to data and modelling, and provide interpretations of data or reports from many internal and external sources. SMC also provided quantitative information for public health teams to use within their organisations to advise on the local epidemic picture. Among other tools, the SMC calibrated a mathematical model to local COVID-19 data that could forecast health-care and hospital demand and COVID-19-related deaths.

Findings: Throughout the pandemic, the SMC provided scientific and data-driven evidence on the necessity of body storage contracts, monetary support for urgent care, and operational adjustments surrounding health-care provisions. The scientific evidence was generated and used repeatedly in each organisation to make beneficial decisions in a time of crisis. Although chasing an ever-changing pandemic picture was challenging, our swift reaction to national policy and pandemic changes allowed us to support policymakers, reduce anxiety, and provide clarity on the next steps. Our collaboration is one among few across the country and thus should be not only celebrated but also replicated, with appropriate resources and funding.

Interpretation: Besides mitigating the direct impact of the COVID-19 situation in Sussex, we have established a scientific collaboration relationship, in contrast to a customer-consultant setting, allowing the group to incorporate both the technical and applied perspectives into the work. With a clear structure, ethos and methodology, the SMC is able to step into the gap between academia and public health modelling to consider different impactful questions of operational importance where underlying complicated models exist, such as waiting times or system demand and capacity, and provide data analytic upskilling to public health teams.

Funding: Brighton and Hove City Council, East and West Sussex County Council, and Sussex Health and Care Partnership.

MeSH terms

  • COVID-19* / epidemiology
  • Hospitals
  • Humans
  • Pandemics
  • Public Health
  • State Medicine
  • Universities