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How Can UK Health Data Be Used to Benefit Patients and Research?

on Thursday, 11 March 2021.

The Government has commissioned a review into the use of health data in the UK for research and analysis. The objective is the more efficient and safe use of the health data ultimately for the benefit of patients.

The review will be led by Dr Ben Goldacre, Director of the DataLab, Nuffield Department of Primary Care Health Sciences, University of Oxford. The results are expected in April. The review will complement the Data Strategy for Health and Social Care. That Strategy will direct the use of data in the NHS following the COVID-19 pandemic.

Matt Hancock, the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, said: "The pandemic has demonstrated just how important health data is. Ensuring that researchers have secure, transparent and ethical access to health data has the potential to transform health and care and save lives."

Dr Ben Goldacre commented: "The UK has a phenomenal resource in its raw data, and its people. Our challenge is now in the final lap: we need to find safe, secure, collaborative and efficient ways to turn that raw data into insights and action, to improve patient care for all. There is a wealth of expertise around the country, much of it untapped."

The sort of questions that the review will consider are:

  • How can we facilitate access to NHS data by researchers, commissioners, and innovators, while preserving patient privacy?
  • Which technical platforms, trusted research environments and data flows are most efficient and safe?
  • How can we rapidly overcome the technical and cultural barriers?
  • How can we avoid monopolies over data access for analysis?
  • What are the right responsibilities and expectations on open and transparent sharing of data and code for arm’s length bodies, clinicians, researchers, research funders, electronic health records and other software vendors, providers of medical services, and innovators?
  • How can we best incentivise and resource practically useful data science by the public and private sectors?
  • How significantly do the issues of data quality, completeness and harmonisation across the system affect the range of research uses of the data available from health and social care? What research can the UK optimally support now, and what changes are needed?
  • If data is made available for secondary research, for example to a company developing new treatments, then how can we reassure patients that their privacy is preserved?
  • How can we help the NHS to analyse and use data routinely to improve quality, safety and efficiency?

In the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, the UK's NHS has had great success in using real-world evidence to discover new uses for existing medicines, such as dexamethasone and remdesivir. This has been to the benefit of patients around the world. This response has shown what is possible. Now, it's great to see the UK wanting to build on these successes and achieve much more.

Coronavirus Legal Advice

At the PING meetings that are being held by VWV, we are continuing to look at areas where the UK is taking a lead in pharma and data use as a result of the pandemic response.

If you would be interested in hearing more about these issues and being invited to attend PING meetings, please contact Paul Gershlick in our Pharmaceuticals & Life Sciences team on 07795 570072, or complete the form below.

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