Making vital data available to accelerate COVID-19 research  

  • Six “National Core Studies” established by the government 
  • Studies will ensure safe and transparent access to data to support analysis and enable insights to tackle COVID-19  
  • Health Data Research UK in partnership with the Office for National Statistics will lead “Data and Connectivity” – the cross-cutting programme to make data available to all of the studies 

Today, the UK government has established six national studies to support and accelerate the UK’s research response to COVID-19. The studies will use health data to identify and respond to essential questions to rapidly inform policy, operations and planning and maintain resilience against COVID-19 across the UK this winter and beyond.   

Find out  more about the National Core Studies

These research questions include topic such as the levels of infection in the general population and in specific settings such as schools or nursing homes, the impact of different environments on the spread of COVID-19, and now the immune system offers protection following infection. The aim is to build on the wealth of expertise that we have in health research across the UK. 

As the national institute for health data science, Health Data Research UK (HDR UK) is working in partnership with the Office for National Statistics (ONS), the NHS across the four nations and other key partners to lead one of the studies. Known as “Data and Connectivity”, this study connects the other five studies and accelerates the approach to answering key research questions by enabling streamlined data access and analysis.  

“Data and Connectivity” will build on the Health Data Research Innovation Gateway and the UK’s trusted research environments (“TREs”) to ensure data is stored safely and securely, made readily available to researchers and provide services that make the data easier to use. Each national core study will work to a set of data sharing principles and will involve patients and the public on the design, development and governance of their activities. 

As publicly funded research, the data, outputs and observations generated from the National Core Studies will be openly accessible via the Health Data Research Innovation Gateway. Making this available will allow the scientific community to pool expertise, draw fresh insights, and more rapidly increase our collective understanding of COVID-19. It will also make these vital insights, and how the data has been used, transparent for anyone to see.  As part of our wider commitment to engagement, the programme will involve the public in every stage from data use to analysis and insights. 

In addition to the crucial support in the UK’s response to COVID-19, the Data and Connectivity programme creates an opportunity to accelerate HDR UK’s work to develop the UK’s health data research infrastructure; facilitating new discoveries, better understanding and improving health and care in the UK. 

Caroline Cake, Chief Executive Officer, HDR UK, said: “Data is a vital component for research into COVID-19. It is used to help recruit people into trials for vaccines and treatments, to understand who is affected by COVID-19, as well as how they are affected. So, the Data and Connectivity programme will enhance the UK’s ability to use the power of health, social and care data to enable these discoveries; and it will inform the actions that help to save lives and livelihoods in the UK and globally.”  

Margaret Rogers, member of HDR UK’s Public Advisory Boardsaid: “It is essential that the public is included in this ground-breaking work. As a full member of the Data & Connectivity Delivery Group, I am able to not only bring a public/patient perspective to these developments but also to raise concerns and have questions answered during meetings.”

Alison Pritchard, Director General for Data Capability at ONS, said: “Streamlined access to data and analysis is crucial to quickly answering complex questions about COVID-19 and its impact on people’s lives. The ONS team is ready to bring our extensive experience of handling multiple complex datasets securely to this project, enabling researchers to share their knowledge and develop fresh insights by linking data.”