A joint funding package of up to £200 million between NHS England and NHS Improvement, Department of Health & Social Care and Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy, has been announced that will enable us to invest in NHS data infrastructure to help put the NHS in the driving seat of data-driven research and innovation.
Following the ambitions set out in a previous blog, a significant proportion of this funding will, subject to business case approval, pave the way to deploy and expand NHS ‘Trusted Research Environments’ (TREs) – a type of ‘Secure Data Environment’ which will enable the NHS to make life-saving linked data more securely and quickly accessible to researchers, while offering the highest levels of privacy.
It represents an important step forward in the work taking place to support the draft strategy Data Saves Lives, which sets out how we will make data the foundation of our health and care system: giving patients greater access to their data, improving NHS services, linking up NHS and adult social care systems and powering medical research.
In addition to investing in TREs, we will enhance services that make it quicker and easier to set up and deliver data-enabled clinical studies, with a significant focus on increasing the diversity of participants invited to take part in clinical research.
This £200m funding allows us to significantly accelerate key pieces of work already underway across the NHS, supported by partners including the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR). For example, this year we have been working with a small number of NHS and academic colleagues across England to research, plan and test the concept of NHS-owned, ‘Subnational Trusted Research Environments’. These enable researchers to conduct de-identified data analysis at a significant ‘regional’ scale, whilst being able to work closely with local clinical teams who provide critical expertise and context.
The richness, timeliness, and scale of local data is critical to a number of research and development uses, such as clinical AI development, ‘real world’ studies of medicine effectiveness, and operational research. Critically, this approach also provides opportunities for the local population to play an enhanced role in the governance and design of these services.
Already, we have supported a major series of ‘deliberative engagement’ events with a cross-section of the public with One London and significant technical planning work with colleagues in Wessex, Greater Manchester and the Thames Valley. The work conducted by these regions, alongside input from other key stakeholders, provides a strong foundation to build on and directly supports the Secure Data Environment policy development work.
In addition to ‘sub-national’ TREs, we have also been supporting national-level services. For example, we have been working to enhance ‘NHS DigiTrials’ – a service to simplify and accelerate the way patients can be offered opportunities to join clinical trials. This service was critical to recruiting patients to the ‘RECOVERY’ clinical trial, which helped identify safe and effective COVID-19 medications.
Through these investments, we envisage DigiTrials will support a greater number of high priority national clinical trials, and become an important part of a coherent suite of tools to improve clinical trial operations in the UK. We have also been supporting the development of NHS Digital’s national Trusted Research Environment, which supports R&D projects that require national scale.
Together, over the coming years, we believe these investments will help us develop a world leading, NHS-wide, health data research infrastructure that enhances patient care, sustains the NHS, supports innovation and is understood and well-supported by the public.
Find out more about TREs, including our next steps and our stakeholder engagement.
The Centre for Improving Data Collaboration is responsible for delivering the NHS-focused data commitments in the UK’s Life Sciences Vision. Today’s significant investment announced by the Health Secretary will optimise the way NHS health data can be used for research which improves patient care, while building public confidence.