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Secure access to health data improved to aid coronavirus research

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Researchers working on projects related to COVID-19 are benefitting from a new service for studying vital health data quickly and securely.

The Trusted Research Environment (TRE) Service for England provides researchers with access to permitted health data for analysis and research via a remote, secure, analytical platform within the NHS. It aims to speed up the pace of research which is vital to the UK’s COVID-19 response.

Datasets and analytical tools within the TRE improve the potential to make new discoveries through research. The service also aims to reduce issues researchers have faced in the past with accessing data promptly and in consistent formats.

The first client to use the service, the BHF Data Science Centre2, led by Health Data Research UK3 (HDR UK) has created a research environment offering access to routinely collected COVID-related health data to a team of researchers from UK universities and other research organisations.

This team is currently researching the effects of cardiovascular diseases on patient outcomes and the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on diagnosis, management and outcomes of cardiovascular diseases.

Professor Cathie Sudlow, director of the BHF Data Science Centre, said: “One of the frustrations researchers traditionally face is accessing the data they need in the formats they need it in, prolonging the development of new scientific discoveries. The Trusted Research Environment is a response to that problem, allowing researchers to access high quality datasets and analytical tools and to collaborate with each other in the search for answers to complex problems like COVID-19.”

Brian Roberts, head of the TRE for England at NHS Digital, said: “COVID-19 has generated an influx of research projects coming into NHS Digital. These requests are to either use our data or link it to answer data questions that aim guide national decision making, look at potential interventions and reduce the severity of outcomes.

“We want to provide rapid, safe and trustworthy access to essential health and care data for timely research at scale. It’s a key part of NHS Digital’s strategic vision and gives our customers prompt and safe access to data alongside our existing data dissemination services.”

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