Computer simulation experts create NHS ‘Living Lab’ on the Slough Trading Estate

An industrial unit on the Slough Trading Estate has been transformed into a replica accident and emergency ward as part of a research programme that is looking at ways of improving efficiency across the NHS.

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A group of clinicians, professors and computer simulation companies have joined together to form the Cumberland Initiative (CI) who believe that using computer modelling will help the NHS save up to 20% of the budget over five years. They hope the results from the pilot unit in Slough will become a national test bed for NHS innovation.

The 'CumberLab' is an 8,000 sq ft industrial unit on 163 Bestobell Road which is being used as an experimental space by clinical, commercial and academic experts in healthcare operational research. Here they can troubleshoot and conduct experiments linked to computer modelling rather than testing in live hospitals.

From the 6th July, the space has been temporarily mocked up to simulate a busy accident and emergency ward with hospital beds, machines and pretend patients.  Medical staff and clinicians and healthcare managers can use simulation to 'war game' and test potential new ways of working in a safe and measured, but realistic, environment.

Paul Lewis, Regional Director, SEGRO, said:

"This is the first time in our 95 year history where one of our facilities has been adapted into a temporary replica A&E ward - and is a great example of the range of different customers who base themselves on the Trading Estate.  From computer modelling and simulation to chocolate making and welding machines, what goes on inside the units is incredible."

Computer modelling uses data to build artificial versions of a situation that can then be altered in multiple ways so the operator can understand the impact their actions are having. The feedback can then be used to adapt the process and make recommendations for improvements. 

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Co-founder of the Cumberland Initiative Terry Young, Professor of Healthcare Systems at Brunel University, said:

"Modelling is the difference between being surprised and being prepared. It would transform the quality of care, the cost of care, the sustainability of care, and the dialogue with patients, and could even spawn whole new sectors of our economy."

According to the Cumberland Initiative, maths, modelling and computer simulation do exist in the NHS, although their use is fragmented and the results are rarely implemented.

The CI said that Dr Paul Schmidt, a consultant in Acute Medicine at Portsmouth Hospitals NHS Trust, used computer simulation to work out how to deal with queuing ambulances and lengthening four hour waits in the Emergency Department. A successful pilot in March cut ambulance queues by a staggering 96% and the numbers triaged within 15 minutes doubled.

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