UK to build new national database of poisoning cases

Public health agency signs contract for rapid development of revamped application 

Credit: Arek Socha/Pixabay

The UK’s public health agency is to develop a new database through which care professionals will be able to access details of known cases of poisoning.

The National Position Information Service (NPIS) is a government-funded initiative that provides specialist advice to healthcare professionals treating possible cases of poisoning. With a history going back 50 years, it also maintains a national database providing information on toxins and the effects of exposure.

Its work is commissioned by the UK Health Security Agency which, according to commercial documents, is seeking to “develop, implement and support the rapid application development of a new… UK Poison Information Database application”. 

Once complete, this new system will provide users with a “reference database to hold information about cases of poisoning in the UK”.

The application will be built using the PHP coding language and will adopt the open-source Laravel framework that supports its use. The ‘rapid application development’ method specified by UKHSA includes agile or adaptive approaches, rather than those that are more prescriptive upfront.

Work to build the new poisoning database will be delivered alongside Juicy Media – a Manchester-headquartered web developer. The company has been signed to a two-year contract worth £143,000 and covering the provision of application development and the migration of data to the new system.

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Procurement records indicate that the firm has experience of working with the national poison database – having previously delivered a smaller and shorter-term engagement to refresh the application, and implement new “search and reporting tools”. That contract ran for five months from 1 November 2019, and was valued at £43,000. 

On its website, the NPIS describes its role as being “to reduce the burden of healthcare associated with poisoning by the provision of rapidly available, consistent and evidence-based advice to frontline NHS healthcare professionals”. 

“The purpose of this advice is to facilitate optimal clinical management of patients with confirmed or suspected poisoning and those who are – or may be – exposed to medicines or other potential poisons during pregnancy,” the site added. “Where toxicity is low, NPIS offers advice to minimise unnecessary hospital attendances and admissions.”

The service provides information and bespoke advice via the database, as well as a 24-hour phoneline staffed by a network of poison specialists based across sites in Birmingham, Cardiff, Newcastle, and Edinburgh. 

“Supporting them is a team of on-call consultant clinical toxicologists, attached to major teaching hospitals and therefore with first-hand experience in the management of poisoning,” the NPIS said. “Enquirers can always gain access to the service via a single national telephone number. An automatic call-routing system intelligently manages incoming phone calls, ensuring that every enquiry is directed to the next available specialist for a prompt and accurate response. In exceptional circumstances, an emergency service comes into effect, diverting calls to authorised mobile phones. At all times, the overriding aim is to ensure the reliability and continuity of the service.”


Sam Trendall

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