UK Gov Backs Plans to Change How Scientists Access NHS Data

A data scientist, in a digital brain,

The UK Government has announced plans to create new Digital Innovation Hubs to help researchers and scientists access NHS data more easily. 

As part of the government’s modern Industrial Strategy, new Digital Innovation Hubs are to be created to transform the way researchers and innovators access data from the NHS, universities and social care.

It is hoped that by facilitating easier access to data, scientists will be able to find cures and treatments for diseases including diabetes and cancer much faster. Additionally, another desired outcome of the plan is that patients will have faster access to personalised and more effective treatments.

Backed by £37 million of Industrial Strategy Government investment, the plan will enable better clinical trials, help identify factors behind many common diseases and reveal data trends faster.

For the first time, researchers will have access to data from some of the UK’s major health providers in one place, including the NHS in Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

To ensure privacy, data will go through a rigorous de-identification and encryption process. The project is to be led by Health Data Research UK (HDR-UK), the national institute for health data science.

Business Secretary Greg Clark said: “Access to anonymised health data has huge potential to allow us to better understand diseases and develop life-saving new drugs and treatments.

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The Digital Innovation Hubs, backed by over £37m of Industrial Strategy investment, will ensure researchers, innovators and clinicians can access a large quantity of anonymised data responsibly and ethically – allowing them to pioneer new medicines and treatments.

“These hubs are a major part of our modern Industrial Strategy, building on the UK’s world-leading life sciences sector and health service to the benefit of researchers, industry and patients.”

Health Minister Nicola Blackwood said: “It is absolutely crucial that researchers are able to access the NHS’s world-leading anonymised data so they can develop cutting-edge treatments and solutions to some of healthcare’s biggest challenges. This will mean people can receive new medicines quicker and get more timely diagnoses which will ultimately save lives.

“As part of our Long Term Plan, we are determined to encourage more innovation in the NHS than ever before so patients benefit from the best medicines and technologies.”

Professor Andrew Morris, Director of Health Data Research UK, said: “We are excited about the tremendous opportunities that Digital Innovation Hub Programme brings to the future of health research and innovation in the UK. Working closely with UK Research and Innovation, our focus in delivering these new centres of excellence is first and foremost on ensuring that patients reap the rewards and are reassured that all data are used ethically and responsibly.

“The UK has a high energy community that brings together leading health experts, entrepreneurs and data scientists. When combined with the UK’s ability to bring data together from hospitals, patients, public health and laboratories, we can power an open innovation platform that improves the health and care of people living with cancer, diabetes and heart disease and make the UK the place for ethical data research.”

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It’s expected the new centres, which will be selected via a competition, will be established by the end of the year. The centres will be tasked with ensuring all the health data is processed in a secure and ethical way by involving patients to ensure that benefits are returned to the NHS.

Investment in the Digital Innovation Hubs forms a part of wider work to cement the UK’s position as a world leader in the life sciences sector, worth nearly £74 billion to the UK economy.

Professor Andrew Morris, Director of Health Data Research UK, said: “We are excited about the tremendous opportunities that the Digital Innovation Hub Programme brings to the future of health research and innovation in the UK.

“Working closely with UK Research and Innovation, our focus in delivering these new centres of excellence is first and foremost on ensuring that patients reap the rewards and are reassured that all data are used ethically and responsibly.

Morris added: “The UK has a high energy community that brings together leading health experts, entrepreneurs and data scientists. When combined with the UK’s ability to bring data together from hospitals, patients, public health and laboratories, we can power an open innovation platform that improves the health and care of people living with cancer, diabetes and heart disease and make the UK the place for ethical data research.”



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