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COVID-19: A Catalyst for Change in Government-Industry Partnership

How outsourced pharma healthcare workers are supporting the Office for National Statistics COVID-19 Infection Survey as part of a Government-industry partnership.

COVID-19 has seen the UK life sciences sector step up at unprecedented pace and scale to support the Government fight against the pandemic, and realise the promise of public-private partnership. The UK is the first country in the world to discover a treatment for COVID-19, with many more treatment studies such as ACCORD underway, vaccine trials mobilised, new testing methods and pioneering digital health solutions to tackle the virus.

A shining example of public-private collaboration is the Office for National Statistics Covid Infection Survey (ONS CIS) delivered in partnership with the Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC) Oxford University, the UK Biocentre and IQVIA.

IQVIA was approached by DHSC on 16 April 2020, to provide a UK-wide team of healthcare workers (HCW) who could be mobilised to conduct blood and swab tests, initially across 1000 households. Within two days the Government asked for 10,000 households to be tested within the first month. In just over a week, working with the ONS leadership, IQVIA had set up and organised processes and logistics for household registration and was building and training the team of health care workers, but the expanded scale of the ONS survey meant a new kind of collaboration with experienced outsource providers was called for.

By 26 April a pan-industry COVID-19 tester team of 250 HCWs was built, trained and mobilised to commence household testing, deployed through a new and unique partnership with 11 outsourced HCW companies: Star, Apodi, Bionical, SquareHealth, Bluecrest, TNS, ONS, NatCen, Ipsos MORI, Kantar.

The field HCW tester team has expanded to 863 people conducting household tests on behalf of the ONS programme, every day for eight weeks, the scale of the delivery can be seen from the latest activity figures below:

  • 17,523 Households registered with >37,000 participants in the study
  • >127,000 tests in >59,000 household visits between 26 April and 22 June.

Star Medical Healthcare Worker, Lesley Jarvis commented: “I feel honoured to be part of the ONS CS survey which is of such national importance important in the fight against COVID-19, with the households I have visited being so grateful and friendly.”

The survey data that captures the results of the tests carried out by the 863-strong HCW team has been pivotal to the Government strategy for managing the COVID-19 crisis. The success of the ONS CIS-Industry partnership has been characterised by a spirit of trust, transparency, collaboration, and exemplifies industry as a proven valued partner to be relied upon by independent organisations such as the ONS, the UK Government and the NHS going forward.

Commenting on the government-industry partnership, Pete Benton Director for Population and Public Policy Operations at the ONS said: “It was important that we worked with a range of organisations and partners in order to make sure we had the expertise and skills needed to pull together the COVID-19 Infection Survey at the scale and speed required during the national emergency of this pandemic. Working with IQVIA, and others, we have been able to put in place a massive field work operation across the country with trained health professionals collecting results to back up one of the largest surveys of its kind at record speed.”

“These results have provided essential evidence and continue to inform the Government as lockdown measures are relaxed and we move to the next phase of combating the effects of COVID-19. I’d like to thank IQVIA and our other partners for their support in making this possible and ensuring we continue to improve these results as we look to expand the survey even further.”

It is to be hoped that the learning and achievements of this government-industry partnership, a true collaboration during a ‘war-zone’ situation, can be built on and embedded in peace-time.


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Angela McFarlane
Angela is Snr Market Development Director for IQVIA for whom she leads pioneering collaborations with Government, the NHS, the life sciences industry and patient organisations to maintain the UK’s global attractiveness to global pharma investment and to improve NHS patient access to medicines.


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