Research by Professor Denaxas and his colleagues from Denaxas Lab, and elsewhere, proved significant in helping the NHS and policymakers learn from the first wave of Covid-19 in readiness for the second.

Dr Spiros Denaxas

Using patient data from across England they created a tool showing the number of excess deaths from the virus based on age, sex and underlying conditions. Those with conditions such as heart disease were found to be five times more likely to die from the coronavirus.

The research (published in The Lancet and widely reported in newspapers such as The Guardian) had profound implications for government and the NHS – as did another project which examined the availability of hospital beds with mechanical ventilators. At a national level the supply was sufficient. However, admissions were often focussed on particular hospitals, which pushed them above safe occupancy levels for significant periods of time even though there were suitable beds available nearby. A subsequent paper showed that increased bed capacity was associated with a higher risk of death due to Covid-19.

As planners prepared for the second wave this research allowed them to identify ways to ensure that patients were better distributed and reduce the chances of hospitals being overwhelmed.

Each of these projects, some making use of millions of patient records, demonstrated the value of large-scale data and health data science in tackling immediate and major healthcare challenges.

As a teenager Prof. Denaxas was not anticipating a career in health data science, let alone at the forefront of efforts to control an immense healthcare crisis. He was interested in medicine but found his greatest aptitude was for computer science. Indeed, while he was studying for his doctorate he also worked for a software start up, something that brought him in contact with experts from companies such as Yahoo.

This private sector experience provided an invaluable grounding in issues such as data handling and management and best practices on programming. This gave him a head start as he began developing a career in which he has been developing innovative ways to use electronic health records (EHRs) to improve human health.

Now a Professor of Biomedical Informatics at the UCL (University College London) Institute of Health Informatics his research has addressed a host of issues such as identifying complex disease trajectories across the life course. He has also been using EHRs to look beyond the immediate effects of Covid-19, including co-authoring a BMJ Open examining the pandemic’s impact on cancer services.

Spiros’ career path:

  • BSc in Computer Science, University of Bradford
  • MSc in Information Engineering Systems, University of Manchester
  • PhD in Bioinformatics, University of Manchester
  • Private sector software engineer
  • Professor of Biomedical Informatics, University College London